M.M. Wittle appears to dabble in everything. She writes plays, poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. She recently published 3 Decades and I’m Gone, a non-fiction chapbook based on the loss of her parents. Her plays have been produced at various Play in a Day festivals in the Southern NJ theatre community as well as her play, “Family Guidance” had a reading at the Walnut Street Theatre. Her most recent full length play, “Ghost Lights” will be at the Luna Theatre in May. She is the creative non-fiction editor for The Fox Chase Review and an adjunct professor as well as a Literacy Coach in Camden, NJ. I first met Michelle at Rosemont Writers Retreat a few years ago and wanted to see what she is working on now.
Jim: Out of all the writing you do, is there one genre you are most passionate about?
M.M.: I think plays are the easiest for me to visualize, flash fiction would be the next passion. I do my best work when I have to be contained in a smaller form.
Jim: 3 Decades and I’m Gone is a very personal look at suffering, survival and healing and you use poetry, prose and pictures in the book. Tell me how the project came about.
M.M.: This is a funny story. The poetry came first and my idea was to just have the poetry as a chapbook about loss. Then the bat came into my apartment and I started researching what bats symbolize. When I saw bats take one’s grief I thought that was interesting but didn’t really pay it any mind. When I was in therapy and found out grief is a step in the grieving process, the book came into formation. I know there were some things I still couldn’t fully talk about but poetry made it easier because that was just an image. Some pictures said things I could never fully explain. And the flash creative nonfiction made telling the story easier because I only had to spend time in that memory for 1,000 words.
Jim: Can you tell me about the Play in a Day concept and how often you’ve done it?
M.M.: The play in a day concept is I have 12 hours to write a play with my characters and props dedicated to me and then the director and actors have 12 hours to put the show on. I’ve done this for about 2 years and have written about four ten-minute plays. There is another Play in a Day festival coming in April or May and rumor has it the performance will be at Stockton University.
Jim: So working on these short plays and flash fiction, do you consider yourself a minimalist?
M.M.: I never though of it that way. I just like the challenge of the forms and how specific the word choices have to be when writing in the smaller forms.
Jim: Can you tell us about an incident where you received writing advice that was meaningful to you and what that advice was?
M.M.: When I was a full time teacher, I stopped writing. I felt like I had to spend my time really focusing on my students and their education. I didn’t know how to balance teaching and writing. However, I had a friend say to me after I complained that I had nothing new to say no one can tell a story the way I can tell the story. Then J.C. Todd kicked me out of poetry class because she knew I was writing around the poem instead of writing the poem. Her instructions were to write everything about the poem I had in my head. That helps me a lot when I am trying to find my way into a story.
Jim: Did J.C. physically kick you out of class? That sounds like tough love! It sounds like good advice though.
M.M.: She didn’t physically kick my shin but she did tell me the poem I wrote wasn’t what the real poem was about. Then she told me to go into an empty classroom and just write. J.C. Todd is one of my pillars of writing. I knew she would be the only one to teach me how to write poetry and she still inspires me today. In a post script to this story, the poem still hasn’t been written yet.
Jim: Can you tell us about your new full-length play “Ghost Lights” that is being produced in May? What is the play about? And as the playwright, how much do you get involved in the production once it is on paper?
M.M.: “Ghost Lights” is my homage to the theatre. When I worked in a theatre in Philadelphia, I became curious about ghost lights and there place in theatre history. The play was once just a 14 page act and now it is a full 90 minute production. The play looks at all the cliches and wonders of the theatre. It was such a joy to write and I’m grateful to Haddonfield Theater Arts Center for the opportunity to write the play for their adult theater class.
Scott Laska asked me if I wanted to write a full length play for his adult class and I jumped at the opportunity. I attend class most nights and listen to the actors play their roles. Some of the choices they made influenced how I shaped the play. It was a really spectacular experience to build this show for them.
Normally a playwright writes the play and if the play goes to a reading or workshop, he or she gets to do rewrites based on what the playwright hears. With this experience, I worked with the director Benjamin Sterling Cannon, and the actors on a weekly basis. It was so wonderful to be able to rewrite the play weekly and really watch it take shape.
Jim: Sounds awesome. Good luck with the play!