A poetry unit in school, taught by a soul-patched goateed English teacher was all it took to get Al Man writing. He admits that, at age twelve, his poetry was “terrible” and melded into the expected romantic and pining poetry of high school, but his work now is honest, heartfelt, and inviting.
Over an iced tea and chocolate-peanut-butter-cup iced coffee we chatted about how Al got to where he is today.
The Writing Process
I began with the question of how Al goes about his writing. His answer was simple: “It starts as something in my head, and I have to write it down.”
From there it goes from a notebook rough draft to a typed one in the computer where Al edits as he retypes it. After taking it to one of his writing groups for feedback and a bit more polish, Al puts the new piece aside and waits. How long does the wait last? Anywhere from “at least a few weeks” to as long as a year before he says he’ll “put fresh eyes on it.” He often writes at home, joined by his dog, Link, on the couch. Sometimes he’ll head out for a walk though, ending up with a stop at Main Bean Coffee after to jot ideas down. He’s told me he used to write at work in the breakroom, but that ended when someone let the cat out of the bag about what he was doing in there (it was Al who told people he was writing). Now, his curious coworkers tend to interrupt, interested in what he has to say in his writing.
He admits ideas come from everywhere for him—it could be a line or two or a character stuck in his head and he writes it down. Inspiration comes from all parts of life, but lately he’s found more of a rush in the raw experiences of the common man, encountering much innovation from Allen Ginsberg and Charles Bukowski.
He doesn’t have a specific muse currently, but instead uses what pops up, or falls down, to start writing. For example, he recently wrote about bird guano that ended up on his car’s windshield. He says, “You can write about anything around you if it hits you in the right way.”
Getting Started and Sage Advice
Al first started putting himself out in the Northeast PA writing scene in July of 2016. He braved an open mic through a Poconos writer’s group and was asked to be a featured writer at the event the next month. He’s continued attending local open mics and showcases for the last year, with one distinct high point being a headliner at the Writer’s Showcase a the Olde Brick Theatre in Scranton where he shared not only his works, but a poem of his grandfather’s as well, who wrote during his time in World War II.
When I asked Al what recommendations he had for local, new writers who need direction, his advice is simply to get out there. “Rip it off like a bandaid!” he exclaims. He says that while he knows it’s difficult to open yourself up to judgments on things that are personal to you (and, he adds, they should be personal things you write about, at least on some level), don’t be afraid of criticism because the majority of it is constructive. He declares, “You won’t know what others think of you if you don’t get out there.” And that is really the whole point.
The Kids He Works With and the Kids of His Brain
Having been in the NEPA Creative Writers and Ink Writers with Al, I’ve heard many of his musings. One of my favorites was his foray into the world of Thanksgiving with his children’s story of “Side Dishes on Strike.” But, being a substitute for Bright Horizons Family Solutions, Al is often writing stories for the amusement of his wards, so a story about Yancy the Yam makes sense. Another favorite story of the students, he says, is “The Very Grouchy Teacher” (That’s HIM!)
He feels the best thing he’s written so far is his beautiful, nostalgic baseball poem called “Pitchers & Catchers” about a former girlfriend and their trip to see the Red Sox. He says it’s not only his favorite, but it brings back good memories and celebrates the friendship with her that endures to today.
The strangest thing he’s written, then? Probably the one about the bird droppings. He wondered why he thought about it for twenty minutes or so and then wrote it, but the point is—he wrote it. And it worked.
Influences and Parting Comments
Al says imagination was always his thing—even when he was young and demanded to be acknowledged only as Batman (costume included). He is imaginative. Still, naming J.D. Salinger, Bukowski and Ginsberg as some of his current favorites fits Al. He’s up-front, forthright and conversational in his writing and in real life. Like Bukowski said, “An artist says a hard thing in a simple way.” Al’s direct, straightforward writing—whether illusory or otherwise—is approachable for all. It’s really great stuff.
Watch for Al around the area—he frequents Kester’s in Luzerne on Friday nights. He’s often at the Wednesday night open mics at Adezzo’s in Scranton, and will be one of the performers at the Game Chateau’s Spooky Writer’s Showcase in October.
Know a writer near you who’s making their own space? Send word to Marcie at firstname.lastname@example.org to help them be heard here.