“I’ve got a lot,” Mal turns their computer around to show me their collection of Sticky Note poetry. They weren’t lying. Their computer screen is covered with digital Sticky Notes, most of them filled with it’s own original poem. This isn’t surprising coming from Mal Sklar. They’ve won third place in last year’s Prentiss Cheney Hoyt Poetry Contest, is a regular at the Clark Writes Creative Writing Forums, and talked to me today about writer’s block and LGBTQ+ representation for the second Clark Writer of the Month interview.
LB: Jess Hoops was the one who recommended you [for Clark Writer of the Month], and mentioned that you write every single day, and you carry around a notebook that you’re always writing in.
MS: [Laughing] That’s not quite true. Actually, the notebook bit is true.
LB: What do you write in it?
MS It’s mostly rambling. Some of it is story ideas. If I have an idea, I’ll jot it down on whatever’s handy. There’s also no separation in my notebook between the days I write.
LB: Do you find that helps or hurts your writing?
MS: It depends on the form of whatever I’m writing on. There are some things I’ll only write in a Tumblr post before I copy and paste it into Word, some things I’ll write in a Sticky Note program.
LB: How do you keep everything organized?
MS: It’s chaotic, but it’s actually more organized than it seems. The word documents are a little strange on my computer. I have different folders for things that are in process, things that are just fragments, and outlines for novels.
LB: Do you have a lot of stories planned out? Give me a rough estimate.
MS: Some of them are more flushed out than others. I’ll give you the ones that I’m definitely planned to write. This summer, I started working on a novel, and I got 37 single-spaced pages in. For short stories, I have roughly between thirteen and fifteen that are mostly finished. Novels I have sixteen-ish.
LB: That’s a ton! Have you taken The Short Story [a English class with Jay Elliot]? You’re an English and Philosophy double major, right?
MS: No, I’ve got too many requirements to get out of the way. I’m a double major in English and Studio Art. If you’ve only known me in writing circles, it would make sense that you would think Philosophy instead of Studio Art. I like the different styles of learning.
LB: Cool! I’ve always wanted to be able to do Studio Art, but I don’t have the natural talent for it.
MS: I kind of have a problem with the word talent. A lot of the time, people will say “Oh, you’re so talented” as a shorthand for saying, “You’re really good at this, and I’m not, and this is the reason that I’ve been told I’m not good at it.” People who’ve been told they are talented at something have put in hundreds of hours of work. There are those exceptional child prodigies, but that’s a super rare case. There’s a way of thinking that allows you to spend all that time doing [your craft], and to be motivated to do that. But it’s a ton of work.
LB: You write a fair amount, so how do you write on those days where you have writers block or just don’t feel like writing?
MS: I write something I don’t care about. But I’ve got a ton of ideas, so I also work on those. Right now, I’m working on a magical school story, which is Harry Potter if it wasn’t gay enough for you. It’s also very Millennial story. It deals with and energy crisis and learning disabilities. It deals with institutions not being sensitive to new information, and to students with different sets of experience that allow them to look at course material in a different light. There’s also a bunch of queer characters. I have a set of rules for about writing representation. 1: They can’t die. 2: They can’t be evil. 3: They must be human, aliens aren’t good representation.
LB: Are there gay aliens?
MS: Star Trek.
LB: [laughing] Oh, Star Trek.
MS: I mean, they were very progressive. They had black women on screen, and they were not made fun of.
LB: And they were in positions of power. They were able to be beautiful and sexy, but still professional and respected, which is still rare to see in movies today. And while I love Harry Potter, there wasn’t a lot of diversity.
MS: Dean and Seamus should have been a thing! I’m a huge Harry Potter aficionado. I’m an auditory learner. I’ve never physically read an entire book of Harry Potter, but I’ve listened to the audiotapes hundreds of times. I have huge chunks of Harry Potter memorized. It’s audio wallpaper at my house.
LB: When making progressive characters, do you make the conscience effort to have diverse characters, or is it something that’s so ingrained in you that you don’t have to think about it?
MS: It’s not natural. Often when I’m thinking of a story, my default is to think of a character as a boy. I try to question it. For example, I have a story I’m working on called ‘Stage Magic.’ It’s about a woman’s who’s a stage magician in a world where people have real magic. When I was first thinking about it, I had the main character be a guy with a woman’s assistant, but then I thought, “Why does he have to be a guy?”. So now she’s a woman with a woman assistant, and they’re probably gay. In another story I’m working on ‘Merlin’s Wake,’ the main character is a black, trans guy gets a scholarship to a magical school, but he can’t use magic. That’s his disability is this world where most people can use magic. I have another story about a magic student who’s doing their thesis on queer magic users who knew each other and influenced each other. That’s something that I’m interested in, artists who know each other, like Hemmingway and Gloria Stein, but also like me and my friends. Most of my characters are depressed and/or ace, and/or trans. Maybe my representation is a little niche, but somebody’s gotta do it!