Meet The Winners – Ziporah Hildebrandt
Next in this year’s interview series, say hello to Ziporah Hildebrandt, who joins us from Hollywood during her workshop week.
Stuart: Ziporah, hello, and welcome to the Writers of the Future family!
Ziporah: Hi Stuart, thanks for inviting me to visit.
Stuart: To start us off, what can you tell me about yourself that would surprise your friends?
Ziporah: Well, I don’t know about friends, but I have a Post-it with “Surprise!” written on it that I move around the house to make my husband laugh when he opens a drawer or picks up the dustpan.
Ziporah: I grow heirloom garlic, breed tree peonies, and dye silk with homemade plant dyes from my garden, using traditional Japanese shibori methods as well as my own designs. I also like to take photos of flowers and ice and clouds.
Ziporah: I grew up down the road from the estate used in The Philadelphia Story with Katherine Hepburn. My family’s house was over a hundred years old. It was originally laborers quarters for the estate. I used to walk in her cornfields and visit her cows. Now I have a garden in the forest full of peonies, in Western Massachusetts.
But not having much money as a youth led me to live in some interesting places: an old sailboat where we drank rainwater and depended on the fish we caught for dinner. An adobe house in an amazing orchard of pears, apples, grapes, peaches and no running water. A tent in a tall silent pine forest. A big house where we busted up furniture to burn, or turned on the gas stove to get warm in the kitchen. A couch on a friend’s front porch. The roof of an urban commune in Philadelphia.
Stuart: Wow! Sounds like you had a lifetime of adventure before you were even grown.
Ziporah: Except I was in sort of a time capsule for many years because I had severe sensitivities to almost everything. It got so bad I couldn’t leave home without oxygen, so I didn’t go out. I eventually recovered, but by then, so much had changed. People dressed different, technology was different. Movie theaters are really different. People who met me since then are surprised by that. I often meet people who have some major thing in their past like a watershed, tragedy — getting over cancer or something like that. But when I meet someone who has never left their home town except to go to the next town over, those are the people I am like wow, that is so hard to fathom.
Not that I’ve traveled the world much, but I like what Thoreau said about traveling extensively in Concord, or the Taoist sage said about the world in a blade of grass. When I go somewhere new I am more interested in the land and the plants than the restaurants and shopping. Hollywood is amazing, so many flowers and exotic plants. It is still snow and frozen ground in Massachusetts.
Stuart: I think I know what you mean.
Ziporah: I love to read about exploring new planets, and accounts of exploring Earth. I often have the feeling that I am not from here though I love this gorgeous planet! My Family and Other Animals, and the Whispering Land by Gerald Durrell are two memorable and hilarious books I totally enjoyed.
One of the most fun places I ever went was the Houston space center. The energy of the place is so inspiring. You cannot grasp the size of the Saturn 5 until you are standing next to it, and even then!
Stuart: True enough. And if you take the tour, they let you sit in the old Apollo mission control room. So is that love of adventure what made you a writer?
Ziporah: The first story I wrote was in fourth grade, a first person account of one of those really little dinosaurs, struthiomimus maybe? That little guy got chased and almost eaten and snatched from the jaws of T. rex every other paragraph. The teacher asked me to read it to the class and though I was shy, I enjoyed that and got a lot of laughs.
Stuart: Cool! I am reminded of my own early attempt at scifi, which was picked up by the school magazine.
Ziporah: For me, the adventure now is changing locked-in ideas of what it is to be human, and what we are in relationship to nature, because we are unlikely to survive if we keep going as we are. Will innovation, risk and intelligence win over greed, force and ignorance?
I had this idea in high school that to be a writer you sat at the typewriter and wrote all day. Everyday. Very serious. Kind of like that same year I heard about enlightenment for the first time, in this yoga book; it said fast on water and stare at a spot on the wall for five hours every day and you will be enlightened. I managed that for two days of fasting and twenty minutes of staring before I was like, there’s got to be a more fun way to get this! I went to a free high school my last two years, only 40 students, only lasted four years, may have saved my life! There were no required classes or attendance, so I stayed home one day and started typing. I wrote a bunch of very short poems all morning then I had to get outside and move. It showed me I could do it, and I kept it up, in smaller doses! I did write over half of a novel in one day once. Here’s the formula for those interested: have a hyper toddler and only a few hours of daycare a few days a week. Send the toddler and dad off for the day to visit family. Write really fast the whole time except for bathroom breaks.
Stuart: (Mumbling while making notes….write really fast except for bathroom breaks…)
Ziporah: A lot of my writing gestates for years before I actually get a character or a story or more than a glimpse of a place or situation. I write wherever I get something I can put into words. I have little notebooks strategically placed around my house, and when I’m out it’s my iPad. I have files and notebooks full of ideas, scenes, characters, and notes on what I’m working on. I also have a couple of AlphaSmarts, I keep one by the bed, and take one out wherever I know I’ll be doing some writing, or if there’s a first draft coming through that’s worth typing.
Stuart: Cool! When it comes to technology, the simpler the better! What did you read when you were a kid?
Ziporah: The first book my dad read to us, when I was two or three, was stories of King Arthur and his knights. The next book was Tarzan of the Apes. Remember those troll dolls with the wild colored hair? I had a Captain Kirk and a Mr. Spock. Fortunately my best friend was a Trekkie, too. As a kid I only liked to read mythology and books about animals set in the wilderness. I couldn’t read anything with horses in stables or more than a few people, until the Lord of the Rings came out when I was in sixth grade. Then I sneaked Dune away from my brother and it was sf and fantasy ever since.
Stuart: So, tell me about your WotF story.
“The Long Dizzy Down” came from a dream. I woke up with the character and some incidents and the whole intense feel of it, like I had mind melded into Bill’s reality while I was asleep. Then it took years to unzip the mental file I’d been downloaded in the dream. Fleshing out the details, expanding on the feel of the people, translating his very different reality into the English we speak now.
Stuart: Ha ha. So how was the workshop?
Ziporah: It was great for me. Enjoyable to be with this generous, funny, sharp group of writers. The presenters were top of the field, or if they were recent winners returning, they had specific experiences, knowledge, skills to impart. This workshop starts where most others never get to at all. It was a pleasure to be able to go full speed ahead.
Stuart: I have to agree. Though I’ve had some wonderful experiences since, there is nothing quite like Writers of the Future. So, what else have you got in the works?
Ziporah: The Long Dizzy Down” is my first fiction publication. Most of my books and articles before this were non-fiction, some related to work, and some poetry by invitation. Winning the contest is a giant, encouraging boost to my passion for imagining possibilities for the future. Most of my writing-in-progress is novels, I have some in a series that tread the border of sf and fantasy. Fantasy elements like elves and dwarves, with real world locations. And what if elves and dwarves are other species of human that we are a mix of? There are people who look more dwarf, more elf, more orc or troll.
I love writing for kids as well as adults. I have a bunch of picture book manuscripts, a mid-grade series that romps through our spectacular solar system, a YA set on the moon, and a YA fantasy. I am shopping a mid-grade fantasy with an agent.
Stuart: Awesome! Well, thanks for stopping by, Ziporah, and good luck with the novel, and the future!
Ziporah: Thanks again!