This interview is the fourth in our "Meet the Denizens" series, featuring the masthead of Dishsoap Quarterly. For Dana, Bianca, one of our editor-in-chiefs, conducted this interview. Dana is a poetry reader.
Bianca: Tell us some basics about yourself: where are you from, what are your hobbies, etc.
Dana: Hi! I’m Dana Blatte, and I’m from the suburbs of Massachusetts. Other than writing and reading, I also enjoy visual art, mainly painting and illustration. I do play tennis, too, though I hate competition (and, honestly, I don’t think I’m good enough for competition either). My dream is to become an author, illustrator and polyglot—I’m fascinated by language, and even though I only speak English and some mediocre school-learned Mandarin, I’d love to learn anything from Hebrew to Indonesian and Hawaiian.
Bianca: Why do you enjoy writing and what inspired you to start doing so? Is there a particular emotion that it evokes?
Dana: I’ve been writing since early elementary school. When I was younger, I was one of those shy kids whose nose was constantly buried in a book, so it just seemed natural to me to try to create my own stories (and I have many embarrassing notebooks full of evidence). Since then, I’ve always envisioned becoming a novelist, specifically for YA fantasy. I only really got invested in poetry at the very beginning of this year, but I’ve already fallen in love with it.
For me, I just think there’s something magical in how these two-dimensional rows of words on a page can build entire universes and narrative arcs out of nothing. So, for me, the most rewarding part of writing is knowing that you are creating something inherently magical, whether it be fantasy or realistic fiction or anything in between.
Bianca: Why do you especially enjoy poetry and magical realism?
Dana: I love poetry because of its lyricism, and how words that are so powerful and hard-hitting can be disguised in such soft and beautiful ways. Poetry has this ability to capture indescribable emotions, which I don’t think any other genre can do as poignantly.
In terms of prose, magical realism is my favorite genre because of how it distorts the mundane through a magical lens. I’ve always loved fairytales and fairytale retellings, but I didn’t learn the term “magical realism” until this past year, so it was eye-opening for me to be able to put a label to my passion. Magical realism is also often written in a more lyrical and expressive style, which resonates strongly with the poetry-lover in me.
Bianca: Who are your favorite writers? How do you think they’ve influenced your writing?
Dana: I have a lot of writers who I adore, so I’ll just name a few: Leigh Bardugo, Anna-Marie McLemore, Soman Chainani (a childhood inspiration), Stephanie Chang (who I am so grateful to have been mentored by), Ocean Vuong, Kinsale Hueston, and Christina Im. I think it’s hard to trace their exact impact on my writing, but they’ve all definitely influenced the way I think about language and imagery and characterization.
Bianca: Are there any specific works that you draw inspiration from?
Dana: For novels, I have a bookshelf dedicated to my favorite books—these are the ones that are so good I wish I had written them. Currently, those books include One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Wicked Like a Wildfire by Lana Popovic, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo, and On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (which is actually a graphic novel, but I promise the writing and illustrations are equally gorgeous).
For poetry, this is a much harder question, but I would have to say that I always find myself returning to “Screenplay with Balconies & Iced Tea” by Lily Zhou, “Sinophonia” by Stephanie Chang, and “Weight.” by Daniel Blokh whenever I’m in an inspiration drought. I’m also currently reading Oculus by Sally Wen Mao, and Brute by Emily Skaja is next up on my list.
Bianca: How has your earlier work informed the work you’re currently creating?
Dana: When I was younger, I wrote a lot of realistic fiction—which, in retrospect, was odd since I mainly read fantasy. Back then, I struggled with the concept of world-building, so it was far easier to situate my stories in familiar environments. Then, in middle school, I wrote a lot (and I mean a lot) of very dystopian stories, since I became more involved in the sociology of novels and how authors could play with different situations and hypotheticals. From those earlier works, I think I’ve gleaned a better grasp on how to create intricate characters and interpersonal relationships. I also think I have a better understanding of how to balance reality with fantasy in my writing, since I spent a lot of time straddling those two genres.
Bianca: What is your writing process like? How long do you typically spend on a project? What ideas do you find yourself constantly drawn to?
Dana: Unfortunately, it would be unethical for me to say that I have a consistent writing process. I’m mediocre at best at writing when forced, so I can transition from weeks where I write every day to months where I barely even draft a single word.
For poetry, I don’t think I spend that much time—usually, if the ideas click, the writing just flows. I might let the piece sit for a few days, just to make sure my writing actually makes sense and doesn’t sound like some pretty yet incoherent words scribbled down at midnight. Other than out, however, I don’t tend to do extensive edits. On the other hand, I’m a ridiculously slow prose writer, which is why NaNoWriMo is such a struggle. I’ve never completely finished a novel manuscript, so I can’t say how long I typically spend on one—however, I can say that I started the draft I’m currently writing back in November 2019. After that month, I pretty much abandoned it until late this summer, so it’s been quite awhile.
I’m enamored with fairy tales, mythology, folklore, etc., so I’m constantly drawn to pieces that evoke these diverse beliefs—especially ones that twist them in new and contemporary ways. I also love pieces with intricate family dynamics, since I’m very close with my parents and my two brothers.
Bianca: Can you share some of your thoughts on the literary community? Have you created work in response to other artists? If so, what do you think the importance of this communication is?
Dana: Although I’m forever grateful to the literary community and the opportunities it’s afforded me, it can become a bit toxic and insular at times. However, I think this environment is less due to the people involved and more due to the inherent competitiveness that’s breeded when there are so many talented and passionate writers out there. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of young writers who I admire and respect, so I can safely say that the community as a whole is very supportive and collaborative. These interactions have really changed how I view and experience writing, and I don’t know where I’d be if I was still just the quiet girl who wrote alone in her bedroom and never thought to share her work.
Bianca: How do you think editing and writing are correlated? What does it take to be a “good” editor, and what do you specifically look for in a piece?
Dana: I honestly think that it’s far easier to be a “good” editor than it is to be a “good” writer; as an editor, I have no trouble finding the parts where the rhythm falters, or the vocabulary feels too complex, or the wording is too ambiguous. However, as an author, even when I keep these strategies in mind, it’s much harder to determine whether they’re employed successfully or unsuccessfully. I think a lot of this stems from perfectionism, and how there is this need to be constantly revising and “improving” your own work.
In a piece, I always examine the word choice first. Especially in poetry, every decision needs to have purpose and impact, so a piece’s vocabulary reveals a lot about both the writing and the writer as a whole. Then, I always feel out the rhythm, as I think the best pieces are so fluid and dynamic the reader never needs to stop to question the line breaks or formatting style.
Bianca: What are your favorite literary magazines and artistic experiences?
Dana: My favorite literary magazines include COUNTERCLOCK, The Adroit Journal, Waxwing, and Wildness (and Dishsoap Quarterly, of course!). In terms of artistic experiences, one of my earliest and most favorite was serving as a two-time Peer Ambassador to Write the World, a writing website for teenagers. Before, I’d always considered writing to be a solitary act, so engaging with this community of peers propelled me into seeking new opportunities. Since then, I’ve enjoyed being a poetry reader for Dishsoap Quarterly. Our team is incredibly supportive and collaborative, and I am so fortunate to be a part of this small community.
Bianca: What projects are you currently working on? What things or ideas do you see yourself exploring in the future?
Dana: Currently, my main project is my novel draft. To be brief, it centers around a girl, her mother, and her six sisters, all of whom turn into swans by drinking moonlight. I also have some other novella and novel ideas sitting around that I would love to finish one day.
In the future, I would love to try my hand at writing a chapbook, or maybe a novel-in-verse—some way to combine my two favorite literary genres. I also dream of writing and illustrating a graphic novel someday, since that would intertwine my twin passions of art and writing.
Bianca: What advice do you have to offer young writers that are just starting out in the literary world?
Dana: From firsthand experience, I know how quickly the young writing world seems to move; there’s all this pressure to enter contests, gain publications, and participate in prestigious programs. While these experiences are still valuable, it is important to remember to write for yourself first, and others second.