Industrious Womyn: Plume

I came across Plume on Facebook—It's scary how well Facebook ads know me. Like, am I interested in a monthly subscription of creative inspiration for writers, infused with New Mexico magic? OF COURSE I AM. But anyway—I knew I had to connect with the creators of this brilliant idea. I met with Jennifer Simpson and Melanie Unruh Rodriguez at a neighborhood coffee shop and they were just as lovely as you'd expect. Outspoken, sassy, and endlessly amusing, they're my kinda gals. 

About a month later, I got to hang out with Jennifer and Melanie and Melanie while they packed July orders, which included a random old photograph for writing inspiration. How cool is that? Keep reading for more creative inspiration from the ladies behind Plume: A Writer's Companion.

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Meet the ladies of Plume

MUR: I moved to Albuquerque 11 years go to get my MFA in fiction from The University of New Mexico. Since then I’ve published short fiction and nonfiction, and have written two YA novels (still unpublished). I teach writing at Central New Mexico Community College and I’m a mother. I love podcasts and audiobooks.

JS:  I have an MFA in creative writing from the University of New Mexico. I’ve published some creative work (poetry, fiction, and nonfiction) in a few journals and anthologies. I also published my great grandfather’s journal written in 1901-- as a 14-year-old he joined the US Navy, Square Sails and the Apprentice Boys: The End of an Era is a transcription of that journal. I work as a marketing consultant and I’ve written about everything from welding, feminine hygiene products, and sleep.  

Tell me about Plume! How did you come up with the idea, what’s your mission, how do you decide what goes in the boxes, etc.?

MUR: I took an entrepreneurship class, and it really got me thinking that I wanted to start a business that uplifted women writers. After kicking ideas around for a while, I came up with a very rough, initial concept for Plume, and then I reached out to Jennifer, who I knew would make a great partner for this kind of business.

JS: This was initially Mel’s idea… to have a subscription box for creative writers. And she really wanted to focus on supporting women writers.  As we were researching we realized that there is a little competition out there so we brainstormed ways to differentiate ourselves and came up with New Mexico magic…  I came up with the idea of Self-Care for the Creative Soul™ partly to broaden our range of products but also because we believe self-care is important.

When did you start writing? When did you first label yourself as a writer?

MUR: I’ve always enjoyed writing, but I didn’t really start thinking of myself as a writer until a teacher in 8th grade made a big deal about a story I wrote. It was honestly a terrible story (that I’m so glad was lost sometime between then and now!), but the fact that someone else was excited about what I was doing gave me the impetus to pursue writing more seriously. 

JS: I’ve always been a writer but didn’t really recognize it…  I was the one at every job who did  the writing:  draft a sales letter, write a procedures manual, a report, a policy handbook….  But when my sister was first diagnosed with breast cancer I turned to writing creatively.   At that point in my life everything was a mess and as I worked my way through it I was taking writing classes in San Diego, and joined a writing group…  I decided to call myself a writer. It was 2004.  I even made cards for myself that said Jennifer Simpson, Writer.

What’s your favorite style or genre to write?

MUR: Though I’ve been writing creative nonfiction a lot lately, fiction will always have my heart.  I enjoy working on short fiction as well as novels. I like being able to jump back and forth between the different forms. 

JS: I mostly write creative nonfiction / memoir though I find poetry to be satisfying.  Perhaps because with poetry I can play with sounds or white space and punctuation in a way that doesn’t really fit with my style of memoir writing.  

Do you have any writing routines?

MUR: My life is as little busy these days to have a fully realized writing routine, but I try to carve out and hour and a half each weekend to write and drink chai at my neighborhood cafe. 

JS: Sadly, no.  I’m terrible at following routines for anything in my life.

Do you listen to music while you write? If so, what are your favorite genres/albums/playlists?

MUR: Yes! I love having music on in the background while I write. It can’t have lyrics, though, or else I’ll get distracted. I’ll play one song with lyrics to pump myself up before I begin (“Do It Now” by Ingrid Michaelson), and then I’ll either put on classical music or a film score (my favorites are Legends of the Fall, Moonlight, Rudy, and The Little Prince).

JS: Whenever I’m writing about my childhood, spent in Hawaii, I like to listen to Martin Denny--  who is the king of Exotica music from the 60s.  It’s a kind of electronic tiki music with no words.  So it puts me in the aloha mood but doesn’t compel me to sing along…  otherwise I listen to classical or electronic music.  

What’s your writing process? Do you start with a plot outline, characters, etc.?

MUR: It depends on what I’m working on. If it’s a novel, I’ll start with the big picture and plot it out. If it’s an essay or a short story, I’ll usually start with an incident or a setting.

JS: My process is more organic, sparked by a memory, I just write.  I craft it into a story later.

Where do you get story ideas?

MUR: Honestly, I don’t even know half the time.  As I mentioned before, a lot of my work tends to be either setting or character-driven, so it often starts with one of those.

JS: Again, a memory, a photo.. .  a found artifact (I have a house full of inherited things!)

What do you do when you’re not feeling creative? How do you spark creativity?

MUR: I try to unplug, make a to-do list to get all that stuff out of my head, drink some tea, take a bath...I also will grab one of my favorite books and read a few pages to get in a creative mindset.

JS: I used to hold a drop-in writing group on Mondays--I put it on hold over the holidays last year and never started it up at the beginning of this year.   (I need to start that up again)   What was great about that was that I KNEW every Monday I would write creatively. …  and using writing prompts can force your creative mind into places you might not go otherwise.  You may find insight into characters you’re working on.    

And for me, another way to get in touch with my creativity is to swim laps. There’s something  meditative about it, something about being in my body rather than in my head that stimulates my creative mind. And it’s good exercise so I feel justified eating chocolate.

What’s one book you recommend or gift often? Why?

MUR: I often recommend David Sedaris’s Me Talk Pretty One Day. It’s nonfiction, and just one of those books I always come back to because it’s so funny and well-written. I was listening to an interview with him yesterday, and he said that President Obama once invited him to the White House because his speech writers wanted to pick his brain about writing structure. The guy knows how to make you laugh until you’re out of breath, and then suddenly you’re crying without even realizing it.

JS: Lately I’ve been recommending Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being…  which is funny because it is not memoir or even creative nonfiction.  But I just fell in love with the story--it’s actually two stories and the beautiful writing.

Which authors have influenced you the most?

MUR: Where to begin? Some of my favorite writers include Roxane Gay, Lauren Groff, Carmen Maria Machado, Aimee Bender, Alison Bechdel, Karen Russell, and Claire Vaye Watkins. There are some men, too, but I already mentioned Sedaris, and I think male writers get plenty of attention as it is.
 
JS: One of my biggest influences has been Judy Reeves, author of A Writer’s Book of Days. She calls herself a writing practice provocateur.  I took my first creative writing workshop  from her back in the late 90s and she facilitated the first read & critique group that I attended.   The most important thing she ever said to me was:  A writer is a person who writes.  That idea, that writing is lifestyle, writing is not about publishing a New York Times bestseller, that it is a way of being, is at the core of Plume; it’s okay to call yourself a writer if you WRITE… Though at Plume we do think women’s stories need to be out there because women’s stories are every bit as important as men’s... so we do want to encourage women to submit their work and publish widely.  

What’s most useful skill you’ve developed?

MUR: Editing! When I was thinking of going into business for myself, I considered doing freelance copyediting, but I’m much happier that we launched Plume instead, where there’s still plenty of editing to be done.

JS: Building websites. 

What does self-care mean to you? How do you practice self-care?

MUR: To me, self-care is taking the time to do things for yourself. You’re no good to the world or your family or anyone else if you’re just overwhelmed and unhappy. I like to write or go to the gym or read a good book. I try to snatch little moments throughout the day, but now that I have a kid, my best moments of self-care tend to be  when I’m alone.

JS: Hah! I have a whole ever-growing list

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What’s one practice, idea, or mentality that someone could start using today to start living a more creative life? 

MUR: I believe it’s important to see creativity as something inside of all of us. It’s not just limited to people who went to art school. Find something creative that interests you and try it out! That particular outlet may not end up being for you, but you never know until you try.

JS: I think it’s important keep in mind that everyone is creative.  The best science and mathematical minds are creative--there’s a reason that MIT has an art program.  Being creative means that you can see things from many angles.  

That said, start small…  doodle, write a few lines in a journal, attend an artsy event, read for fun….

Leave us with a writing prompt?

MUR: Write a scene in which someone is dropped into a setting that’s completely new and outside of their comfort zone.

JS: "Where can you find a bell you can ring in your dreams?"
~Pablo Neruda (from The Book of Questions)