The Artist’s Corner – Visionary Editor, Kori Frazier Morgan

Prior to meeting Kori Frazier Morgan, I heard her name mentioned several times by fellow writer, Don Ake. Then I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at the writing group Don facilitates, The Write Stuff. She was quite professional and pleasant. I, however, wasn’t in the right place to receive what she talked about. Finally, at the annual Christmas party hosted by The Write Stuff, Don insisted that I sit down next to Kori and talk with her. He even cleared a chair beside her so we could speak uninterrupted face to face. Well, all I know is that I can only avoid so many divine appointments before the lightning bolt successfully strikes through my thick skull. Kori was exactly what my novel needed, and I am so thankful to God for her. She’s also what I needed, and she came along at just the right time. Take a moment to meet this marvelous woman through her interview.

Welcome to the Artist’s Corner. Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m Kori Frazier Morgan. I grew up in Kent, Ohio and now live in rural northeast Ohio with my husband, Curtis, who is a machinist and craftsman. We have three pets—two cats, Anastasia and Moe, and Gus, a basset/beagle mix. I hold a B.A. in creative writing and professional writing from Ohio Northern University and a Master of Fine Arts in fiction writing from West Virginia University. Aside from reading and writing, I enjoy long-distance cycling, watching movies, seeing live theatre, and listening to vinyl.

How did your work experience contribute to your desire to write?

I have been blessed to pretty much work in some area of the writing field since graduating from college in 2007. I have created educational content, taught writing classes, and worked as a copywriter and content developer. Even when I worked in retail, it was at a bookstore, so I was still operating within the writing world. All my jobs have helped me get better at writing and learn new things.

Have you always wanted to be a writer? When did you develop your love of writing?

I have enjoyed making up stories and writing them down since I was a kid, but I didn’t start to really think seriously about writing as a career until eighth grade, when I found out that creative writing was something you could study in college. Up until then, I just thought it was a cool hobby. I was blessed to have some wonderful teachers in middle school and high school who helped me develop my talents. I worked on the newspaper staff, took acting and communications classes, and loved being in AP English and history courses, where writing essays was a big part of the class.

Have you ever worked as a freelance writer?

All the time. Every day. In 2012, I left academia to pursue freelance writing full time. I returned to the classroom for a few years to teach at a career college and later worked in marketing, but I can’t say I’ve ever totally left the freelance world. Now I run a small business (more on that later) and freelancing is a big part of my life.

What genre do you write?

I have primarily written fiction in the past, but I am now working on a collection of flash nonfiction essays. I also run a weekly blog, Creativity Matters, as part of my business, Inkling Creative Strategies.

To which writing communities do you belong?

I am a member of The Habit, a worldwide community of Christian writers. We work together to study writing, encourage each other, and help each other to become proficient in our craft. The fellowship at The Habit is extraordinary. People care not just about helping you write excellent work, but about you as an individual. We take writing classes, share our writing on a forum, and have virtual writing time on Zoom, where we hang out and work on our projects.

More in our immediate area, I’m part of A Writer’s Life NEO and The Write Stuff, groups based in the Akron/Canton area that meet monthly to critique members’ work. You can either bring something to share or just read and comment. It’s a very low-key, informal way to get some feedback on your writing and The Write Stuff goes out to eat afterward.

Who or what influences your writing?

I am a big fan of music and film. I listen to music while I write and try to put together playlists that help shape what I’m working on. My novel-in-stories, The Goodbye-Love Generation, is heavily based on my dad’s experiences as a member of the Northeast Ohio music scene around the time of the Kent State shootings in 1970, and I have a whole Spotify playlist devoted to the songs that are in the background of the story. When I’m not writing, I enjoy listening to everything from classical to classic country to hymns to Metallica.

My favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption, which I’ve seen an obscene number of times. I think it is the perfect film for writers to study to learn about narration, character development, foreshadowing, and just how to deliver a satisfying story in general.

How have your favorite authors and/or books shaped your writing?

My favorite author is Flannery O’Connor, and my favorite book is her novel, Wise Blood. I love that she is a Christian author who is not afraid to look at the darkness of the human heart. All of her characters have to face the question of what we are to do with Jesus Christ and His death and resurrection on our behalf, but she does so in a way that resists sentimentality. Many of the stories conclude in a way that is open-ended, leaving room to speculate about what their answer might be. I’m not sure exactly how her work has directly impacted my writing. I just know it has.

What’s your dream goal as a writer?

I want my books to get to as many people as possible whose lives will be impacted by them.

Which authors/genres do you enjoy reading?

I like literary fiction, memoir, and books about theology and spirituality that will help me grow in my faith. I also love studying the Bible. It is God’s inspired Word and contains everything I need to learn more about Him and receive His direction for my life.

What are you reading right now?

I am reading The Door on Half-Bald Hill, a novel by Helena Sorensen. Helena is a member of The Rabbit Room, an organization I support that provides encouragement and edification for Christian artists of all kinds.

What have you published and where?

I have published two books: Bone China Girls, a poetry chapbook, and The Goodbye-Love Generation, both through my independent imprint, Bezalel Media. Numerous individual pieces have also appeared in literary journals such as Shenandoah, SN Review, Switchback, Rubbertop Review, Blanket Sea, Up the Staircase Quarterly, and more.

Describe your journey to publication.

I have been writing professionally for more than 15 years, and the landscape of publishing has changed tremendously in that time. I am an independent author and do the majority of the work to publish and promote my work. During my MFA program in the late ‘00s, we were told that self-publishing was not a legitimate way to publishing a book and that going that route would destroy your credibility. As a result, even as time passed and it became more accepted and prevalent, I was reluctant to pursue publishing my own work.

Things changed after my chapbook, Bone China Girls, was still being rejected after five years. The book recounts the true story of the tragic death of a sixteen-year-old girl in the mid-’60s at the hands of teens and children in her neighborhood, and I felt that it commented on issues such as sexual abuse, bullying, and violence against women that were widely discussed and that I could provide insight into. I decided to publish the chapbook myself because I saw it as an urgent matter. The book’s message was important, and I simply couldn’t wait around for the gatekeepers to tell me I could share it.

I am an independent author and I enjoy publishing my own books. As a marketer and editor with a desktop publishing background, I have the majority of the skills necessary to do the work on my own. I would certainly not recommend this path to everyone—there are some truly hideous books out there that have resulted from authors taking on the responsibility when they are not equipped to handle being the entirety of their publication team. You have to be able to do it professionally in order to be taken seriously.

Have you faced any challenges with writing and/or publishing?

I have struggled with superimposing my own will on my work—trying to make my writing do something that, within the context of a particular project, it is simply not able to do. The Goodbye-Love Generation was like this. I had an agent turn it down when I was finishing grad school because it was a novel composed of short stories and not a traditional novel. As a result, I assumed there was something wrong with that format and spent ten years trying to make it work as a novel or abandoning it for periods of time because I was so frustrated.

Eventually, I realized that I had it right the first time. It was supposed to be a collection of interconnected stories. The fragmented nature of the story fits the characters’ own fragmented perception of the world and themselves. No other format would work to tell this story. Instead of just working with what I had, I let one person’s opinion dictate what I did with my book for ten years. You have to believe in your vision for your writing even if it isn’t what the powers that be seem to want.

Are there any comparative titles to your work(s)?

I am a big fan of two other authors who have written fiction about the Kent State tragedy. Sabrina Fedel has a book called Leaving Kent State that addresses the year leading up to the shootings from the perspective of a high school senior dealing with a friend who returns from Vietnam with PTSD and a debilitating injury. I was also thrilled to receive an endorsement for my book from the fabulous Rita Dragonette, whose novel The Fourteenth of September impacted my revisions. The book is about a college student in the ROTC nursing program who secretly becomes involved with an anti-war group on campus and is caught between her family’s traditional conservative values and her growing feelings that the Vietnam War is wrong.

Describe your research process.

I like to get immersed in places. When I was researching The Goodbye-Love Generation, I felt it was necessary to get the reader out of Kent for some of the stories and move away from the politically charged narrative of the shootings. I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but some thread or another of my Google searching led me to Chippewa Lake Park, a now-defunct amusement park that played an active role in giving local musicians exposure back in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It found its way into two stories in the book. That wasn’t something I planned on, but I think it brought an element of innocence to a story that is otherwise very violent and full of loss.

I also wrote some of the book at a cafe in downtown Kent across the street from the former site of J.B.’s, the bar where my fictional band, The Purple Orange, performs in the book. Downtown Kent is very different now than it was in the ‘70s but being able to imagine the characters there really informed how I described the setting.

Tell me about your newest business venture.

Inkling Creative Strategies is an author services company that offers editing, project development, consulting, typesetting and interior book design, mentorship, and more. My inspiration is the Inklings, the writing society that J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and other writers at Oxford started to encourage each other in their work. My goal is to help writers reach their full creative potential so they can impact and inspire readers. We have been in operation for almost two years, and in that time, authors have released books, completed manuscripts, developed short stories, and started blogs. It’s been awesome to see how it’s developed!

Where can one find you on the Internet?

You can visit my website to learn more about Inkling Creative Strategies. On my website, I offer free writing tools, including workbooks and checklists, as well as the opportunity to schedule a free Zoom consultation.

For more information about my book, visit The Goodbye-Love Generation.

You can also find me on Instagram @inklingcreativestrategies.

What advice can you offer for someone seeking an editor?

I think an ideal editor balances being knowledgeable about the English language and creative writing with understanding the author’s vision. It isn’t about being correct all the time—it’s about collaborating with the writer to make their work exactly what they want it to be. Editing has to be an ego-free process, and you can’t be married to the rules. You need to show the author grace in terms of helping them execute their ideas. I would strongly advise writers to not take on an editor who is rigid and not willing to collaborate.

What’s your dream job as an editor?

I would love to see an author I work with just totally blow up with their work—get tons of readers and attention, and maybe even become a hit nationally. Not because Inkling might get some credit for that, or that even I would, but because I would have accomplished my mission of helping someone reach their full creative potential.

Where do you see yourself in the world of writing in ten years?

I would love to see Inkling grow enough that I can partner with other editors who share my vision. I also, of course, hope that I will continue to write and publish work that will make an impact on readers, whatever that looks like. I also fantasize about The Goodbye-Love Generation being made into an Amazon or Netflix limited series.

Those are great goals and dreams. Wishing you all the best in your pursuits!

Writing Exercises

Writing books are replete with exercises meant to jumpstart your creativity. Even authors who write their memoirs can’t seem to resist mentioning the exercise that helped them. Whether the exercise is meant to focus your concentration or crowbar you out of a slump, I find writing exercises to be, well . . . tedious and annoying.

I remember a daily exercise where for one minute I wrote down the first ten things that came to mind. Then, no matter what the third thing was (or maybe it was the seventh), I spent another ten minutes writing about it.

I don’t know about you, but first thing in the morning my mind is creating a to-do list for the rest of the day, sometimes the week. My list often included thoughts such as take something out of the freezer for dinner, clean the litter box, and wash a load of jeans. Not exactly ideas worthy of ten minutes elucidation.

Needless to say, and yet I’m going to, I quickly tired of the exercise and abandoned it faster than a Spanx bodysuit in the women’s dressing room.

Now this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try an exercise or two, and maybe they really have worked for someone, in which case I’d love to hear from you about the exercise and who suggested it. Don’t forget to include your results.

I have chosen a different approach to keep myself writing while larger works, like my novels and blog posts, swirl about my mind waiting to crystalize into something I can put on the page. For example, yesterday I left the laptop, pencils, and notebooks behind to spend the day with my grandbaby, Jacob. My writing flourished from the exercise.

I started by creating memories that don’t have to be edited because they’re already perfect, and now I can accurately describe a four-year-old’s laughter. It is pure sunshine. Then there are his little hands, more delicate than a bird’s wing and softer than a baby rabbit. Don’t forget his rubber band arms that he throws around my neck and noodle legs that he uses to run like a frisky colt.

And then there are his eyes, the color of melted chocolate; his eyebrows, pencil-thin and able to move independently of each other to express an array of emotions; or his knees, dappled blue and purple with a plethora of bruises.

His voice babbles like a little stream and makes about as much sense, his toes look like pink corn niblets, and his sweet head smells like warm grass.

So you see, I did write yesterday. I worked on description because there was way too much dialog to capture and most of it was delivered between fits of giggles and squealing. We do love a good game of tickle. Maybe I’ll recall this and use it in a story someday, maybe not. It really doesn’t matter as long as I keep at my writing.

Today, when Jacob is en route to his home in another state, I’ll return to the laptop, pencils, and notebooks. If I’m lucky, what I write then will be as perfect as what I wrote when I was with him.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

I recently read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt.  If you follow me on Goodreads and you’ve read the book, you might think I’m rather rigid in my assessment of the memoir.  I’ve read other fiction and non-fiction accounts of the Great Depression in America as well as extremely poor people in Ireland, Appalachia, and other such places, and I must say that for a Pulitzer Prize winning memoir, Angela’s Ashes did not strike me as exceptional in any way.

I’m not sure why the book is titled as it is when the story is predominantly about McCourt’s experiences as a child.  His parents’ courtship and marriage prior to his arrival was necessary to set the stage for what the entire family would endure due to his father’s alcoholism and eventual abandonment, but again, the bulk of what one reads focuses on young Frank.

The prose is pleasant (riddled with Irish slang, sayings, and swear words galore), but nothing poetic or beautifully descriptive.  Sometimes dialog is properly placed between quotes and employs commas, periods, or question marks where necessary, and other times it’s buried in long paragraphs of run-on sentences.

One saving grace from all the depressing tales McCourt relays is the hilarity of the situations he’s writing about.  The thing is, the humor is derived from circumstances that are simultaneously horrific.  Yet the reader has to laugh because the truth is almost unbelievable.  Sadly, some of these dreadful circumstances include the way adults in the story treat McCourt, his siblings, and friends.

It’s unacceptable when adults express the depth of frustration, prejudice, and ignorance-born hatred toward each other that McCourt conveys, but children should never have to suffer at this level.  Educators, employers, priests, nuns, relatives, and hospital administration inflict verbal and physical damage on par with child abuse.  It’s a wonder any child living in these conditions turned out normal.

Near the end of the book, Angela McCourt finally takes the self-sacrificing initiative to do something for her children’s welfare.  Prior to that she tolerates her alcoholic husband’s actions to the extreme detriment of her family by keeping her abuser front and center in her life.  Perhaps it was the era in which the story takes place, perhaps it’s that divorce still carried the stigma of shame back then, perhaps it’s that Angela suffered from some type of battered-woman syndrome (hers being in the form of neglect beyond all reason), but because she refused to rid their lives of her worthless husband’s presence, they underwent shame to an equal degree anyhow.

There comes a point in the book when, in my opinion, McCourt rushes through years thirteen to nineteen because to tell it in any more detail would read as more of the same depressing ground already covered over and over and over.  Things turn around for young Frank ever so slightly; he hops a boat to America, end of story.

I’d like to say that Angela’s Ashes is one of those books that just shouldn’t be missed, but I can’t.  I’m not sorry I read it, but if asked whether or not it is a worthy read, I’ll probably shrug my shoulders, suggest the reader try it, and make up his or her own mind.

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