Marja Ziemer: a writer's craft

Ziemer at her desk in the Sundial newsroom, where editing and production for her section is compiled and ready for print. (Photo credit: Brian Andrade)

Ziemer at her desk in the Sundial newsroom, where editing and production for her section is compiled and ready for print. (Photo credit: Brian Andrade)


The cultish nature of books crowd Marja Ziemer’s mind. As a writer, she allows herself to succumb to how easily the words escape her fingers, translated onto the screen before her.

“Whenever you want to do something that you really love, there is a little bit of guilt in it, because you feel ‘this is too easy, how am I challenging myself?’” she said.

She looks at writing as a necessity to live, giving her what she calls “bouts” of existential crisis. A commuter from Burbank, she attends CSUN regularly as a student and as the Opinion Editor for the Sundial. Her worldview, unlike her predecessors, stems from that existentialism and how it can be applied to film, politics and civil liberties.

She finds time for creative writing has lessened, though she remains dedicated on her bus rides back and forth when she is not looking over a story or hard at researching for an editorial.

“I’ve got to ration out two hours to just get to school, and I use all that time to read, write or edit,” Ziemer, 19, said.

Love of all things literary and cinematic

She reads as much as she can of the New Yorker, while also reading the works of Vladimir Nabokov and Philip Roth. Her appeal to Russian literature stems from a form of style she tries to uphold in her fiction and nonfiction. She said this state of writing can be quite difficult.

Ziemer started at CSUN as a marketing major, until she realized her work in class did not complement her craft. She found English to be her chance at fulfilling this goal. After the fact, she was inquired by her peers about how she will make an income. Her response is to work as an educator on the undergraduate level, as a copywriter and to publish fiction.

Growing up, Ziemer was awarded for her poetry in high school, a task less daunting than short stories, where she traps herself, stuck at a desk, living off coffee for a day or more. At a young age, she was given a leatherback notebook where she found inspiration, by its design, to write a western novel.

Ivan Salinas, 19, coworker and the Assistant Culture Editor at The Sundial, views her work as having intellectual value. They connected over foreign film directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Francois Truffaut and Pedro Almodovar. As a writer himself, Salinas and Ziemer connected over philosophy and music, along with other writers who have inspired them and their work.

“Writing editorials, of course as the Opinions editor, I think she is the only one who is able to do so freely, to put her preferences and her points of view in the paper, and she executes it pretty well,” he said.

Campus figurehead

While the presidency of Donald Trump and the politics around college campuses have reignited political writing, Ziemer said she will not align herself with a particular ideology, rather accepting anti-polarization due to her father’s profession as a paralegal. She has found that making connections that are personal, political and philosophical can be difficult with an 800-word limit. This ties to her views on social media, which the Sundial has tried to incorporate in its reporting over the recent years.

“I could go on such a long spiel about this,” she said. “There’s so much noise coming from the Internet, but they’re still limited. I don’t want to devalue my own writing and sell myself short when I know the way to make money off of writing is to have a certain value on it and hold onto that.”

The change in her style regarding newspaper editorials becomes apparent as you read her work, with what Salinas describes as a variation in language and the ability to bend her words in providing “more of an informative tone, very academic.”

Her friend Deja Magee, 19, compares Ziemer’s writing to the layers of an onion, saying that although she is very mild-mannered in person, this is not always reflected identically in her writing.

“For her writing, on the surface, she seems really mild mannered, a really straight laced person,” said Magee, “but when you read her writing, it’s like she’s an onion and you’re pulling off her layers and you’re finding the type of person that she is, which isn’t what she looks like at all…noir, Americana, that nitty gritty, her writing has cursing in it, has really vulgar characters, and when I asked her about it she said, ‘Yeah, I can’t help but write about realistic people, because in real life, people curse and that’s nothing to be ashamed about.’”

While Salinas does not get that impression, he can relate Ziemer’s writing as anecdotal and meant to impress the reader. The literary and cinematic trait of the twist ending can be seen in her work, changing the tone and bringing the proverbial house down just when the tale is about to wrap itself up.

“When you get to see how her stories are part confession and part fiction and how she intertwines them, it makes me think about this person, about the character,” said Salinas. “Sometimes there’s things I don’t expect for her to confess in her writing, but she does.”

The road ahead

Although she anticipates getting her work published, Ziemer is content with her current role at the Sundial. She takes issue with the salary, however, having reached out to HR out of frustration.

“I know that the value that I’m getting out of this is so much more than the check,” Ziemer said. “I would have quit by now if I didn’t think that was the case. Coming from a standpoint where I’m investing so much time in this, I wish I was getting paid more for it.”

In the years to come following the Sundial, she hopes to see her fiction appear in The New Yorker. Alongside this is the dream to move to the Big Apple, meeting Roth and other writers.

PeopleRyan Mancini