Sex, spiders, and symphonies, oh my!

Islanders Write writers ponder four big questions.

Illustration by Kate Feiffer.

Every year leading up to Islanders Write, we ask four questions to the writers taking part. We actually have a lot more questions for them, but we’ll save those for the event. Three of the questions we sent out have to do with the process of writing, and one has to do with life on the Vineyard. Below is a sampling of their responses, from writing about sex to their worst Vineyard fears.


What’s more challenging, writing about sex or science? 


Suzan Bellincampi: I like to mix them both in — sexy science and sciency sex!

Elizabeth Benedict: Never considered writing about science, but if I do, can I get back to you? 

Ronnie Citron-Fink: As a nonfiction writer, I don’t write sex scenes. But I find science research juicy!

Nicole Galland: Apples and oranges. No, actually, polar opposites. Science often has to be spelled out for the lay reader without taking the reader out of the world of the story, so the challenge writing about science is in taking something exotic and making it feel somewhat familiar. Since most people are familiar with sex, the challenge there is taking something familiar and making it feel somewhat exotic.

Tatiana Schlossberg: Never tried the alternative, but I’m going to stick with writing about science. 

Jean Stone: Science! With science you have to get the facts right. With sex … who cares, as long as it is fun?

Alexandra Styron: Writing about sex? Or writing sex scenes? The pitfalls of writing sex scenes are so notorious it’s daunting to even try. I’d happily write about sex, or science, all day long to avoid falling into the sex scene trap.

Walter Shapiro: The last time I wrote about sex was with the release of the Starr Report in 1998 — and the whole experience, especially with hindsight, makes me feel queasy. As for science, I don’t even try. OK, maybe I might boldly write that ‘gravity makes objects fall down and not up.” But that’s about my outer limit.


Do you listen to music while you write, and if so what kind? 


Bliss Broyard: Yes. Music without words or words in languages I don’t speak. 

Jessica B. Harris: If there is music, it is Bach.

Judith Hannan: I never listen to music when I write. I was a music major and former music teacher, and there is no such thing as passive listening for me. I might listen to a specific piece of music before writing, to establish a mood or evoke a memory or scene.

Susan Wilson: Yes. Usually a Pandora playlist with artists like I’m With Her, Nickel Creek, Lorena McKennitt. Indie folk. No driving beats. Mood music.


Are you a “takeoff” person or a “landing” person? Do you prefer writing the beginning or the end of a book? 


Elizabeth Benedict: I like writing beginnings and endings. It’s everything in between that gives me trouble.

Matthew Cooper: It’s all terrifying.

Nicole Galland: I prefer writing the end because that means I’ve finished it! I also prefer to know where the story is going before I feel comfortable starting it. It’s possible the ending will change by the time I get to it, but it’s good to know where you’re going … or else, why are you telling the story?

Sarah Kernochan: I revel in both. Actually I enjoy the middle too.

Tatiana Schlossberg: Starting is horrible but finishing is always anticlimactic. I like just writing.

Walter Shapiro: Usually, whether it’s a book or an article, I write like a bricklayer. That is, I put down a brick and then search for a brick that might fit next to it. So I always write in precise order from beginning to end, no matter what.

Jean Stone: I honestly like it all. Shaping the story is the most fun, so I guess my answer is all the pages between the first scene and the last.


Are you more afraid of sharks, ticks, or Vineyard traffic? 


Suzan Bellincampi: Vineyard traffic, especially when considering a motorcycle ride.

Elizabeth Benedict: I think we need a bigger questionnaire to deal with my fears.

Bliss Broyard: Sharks! Because there is nothing I can spray on my wetsuit to deter them. And I try as much as possible not to leave my house. So I appreciate everyone braving the traffic to come out for Islanders Write!

Matthew Cooper: Ticks! They’re stealthy, and Upper Main Street you can avoid.

Ronnie Citron-Fink: Definitely Vineyard traffic. Sharks and ticks are part of the Island’s natural ecosystem (ticks, not so much, but that’s another story). When you spend time on the Vineyard during the off-season, the traffic is frighteningly unnatural. 

Nicole Galland: I’ve had Lyme twice, and I’ve never missed a ferry or appointment due to traffic, so my left brain knows the answer is ticks, and yet my right brain keeps sending me into the woods to avoid all the traffic.

Judith Hannan: More afraid of Vineyard traffic, except if it means everyone is going to Islanders Write.

Jessica B. Harris: Vineyard traffic in August and I don’t drive. Ticks run a very close second!

Sarah Kernochan: Ticks. I actually wear a hazmat suit sometimes to garden.

Walter Shapiro: No fear of sharks whatsoever. Deep concern about ticks. Dreaming of a personal high-jumping pogo stick to get me over the traffic at Five Corners in August.

Alexandra Styron: Global warming. Trump 2020. The Edgartown Triangle. I need medication for all three.

Susan Wilson: Spiders.

Islanders Write begins on Sunday, August 11, at 7:30 pm and continues throughout the day on Monday, August 12, at Featherstone Center for the Arts. For a complete schedule of events, visit