An Interview with Steve Passey

Framing (broken) love stories through the structure of song and music is very engaging and feels very natural for this particular subject. How did it emerge for you in the drafting stage? 

The structure of three-minute songs—the chorus/verse x3 and then a fade-away coda—lent itself to drafting this story very naturally and it was an easy first draft. I probably wrote the first draft in under an hour. After that it was just editing. The raw material? Let's just say that it had been there a long time.

If you could assign a song title to any memorable relationship you've had, what would it be? 

"Still Waitin'" by Canadian Legends Big Sugar. As to what relationship? Ha! All of 'em! But in all seriousness if you want to to slow dance around the kitchen with your baby—or you just want to sit there with your dog and your beer thinking about what should have been—this is the song for you. Here's a video link. Twitter Handle is @CanadianCoyote1.

Read Steve's story "Like Break-Up Songs on the Radio (Prophecies of Regret About the Last Three Woman I'll Meet)."

An Interview with Emma Slolely

Your piece centers on an ostensibly anti-social couple who feel an obligation to host a party, a most highly social did these characters and the premise come into being? 

I don't mind confessing that there's an autobiographical aspect to the story! Like so many writers, I am fairly introverted and guard my private time fiercely. But there's no getting around the fact that humans are hard-wired to socialize, to enter however occasionally or reluctantly into the social contract. So I was drawn to this idea of a couple who are victims of these contradictory desires, who treasure their solitude but also feel a yearning for social connection. And what better way to torture this reclusive couple—whose ideal life involves spending time only with one another—than to force them to throw a party? I knew how I wanted to end the story before I'd even started writing it—the way they end up resolving their self-inflicted predicament felt pre-ordained.

Which writers or work(s) have influenced your writing? 

Writers like Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham, Edith Wharton, Vladimir Nabakov and Annie Proulx, while all writing within fairly different eras and frameworks, have always seemed to me to possess an almost superhuman ability to interrogate and reveal what it means to be alive and searching for meaning. If there's a common denominator to the books I love, I think it would be that there's this commingled sense of melancholy and hopefulness. I love stories that are sad but not bleak, if that makes sense.

Read Emma's story "The Day Of.

An Interview with M S Pallister

A family battle an owl and other creatures for rights to a banyan tree...what influenced this piece?

My mother, who lives in India, has a bonsai banyan tree in her house. It’s an absolutely beautiful plant with its perfectly heart-shaped leaves and tiny roots which become tiny subsidiary trunks of the tree. Yet, somehow, the miniature has always seemed artificial to me, like a picture of a large banyan tree. And I have wondered if there were a full-sized banyan tree in the house would my mother still look after it with as much care and love as she shows the bonsai, or would she try to cut it down. So “The Tree” came about as sort of a bonsai-version of our world where we must either live in symbiosis with nature or destroy it.

Which writer/body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you?

I have from very early on, even before I wanted to be a writer, been influenced by the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, especially his short stories. His study of human nature and how people behave in the most unexpected way when faced with a crisis is remarkable. When I started writing, it was the element of magical realism in his work that really inspired me, and I began to experiment with it in different ways and settings. "The Tree” is the product of those experiments.

Read M S's short story "The Tree." 

An Interview with Buffy Shutt

This story has a terrific speculative plot—what inspired this piece?

The image of a shell and the first line I am shell came to me one day. I didn’t know where the image would take me. Into the story I began to realize I was exploring the intersection of life and unexpected death through the lens of prayer and memory loss.

Which writers/body of work have been important to you as a reader and/or a writer?

Oh so many! Today I will say Proust, Eliot, Austen, Dickens, James.
The short story writers, Alice Munro, John Updike, Grace Paley, Nadine Gordimer, Tillie Olsen, Colm Toibin, Roxane Gay.
The poets Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Marianne Moore.
On Writing: Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and Stephen King's On Writing.
And the many mystery writers I read obsessively and admire for reminding and inspiring me to keep the pages turning. Today I will call out Chandler, Hammett, Michael Connelly, George Pelecanos, Tana French, Denise Mina.

Read Buffy's short story "I Am a Shell." 



An Interview with Jeff Burt

A neighborhood vigilante group out to get a coyote...what influenced this piece? 

I am continually amazed, with the loss of a kitten or a small dog, how quickly people enlarge the roving marauder, if there even is one, from bobcat to mountain lion, from coyote to wolf, like the fish lengthening the further one gets from the water empty-handed. Soon sightings of pet-snatchers are reported in every neighborhood.
I am also amazed at the number of people who own guns, and the number of guns they possess—weapons that were not designed for home defense. And as statistics tell us, amateurs don’t have good outcomes using them.
Put these two things together, and you have the opportunity for misfortune.

Which writer or body of work has informed your writing and inspired you? 

Writers who have affected my perspective include Wendell Berry, Annie Dillard, Louise Erdrich, John Steinbeck, Abraham Lincoln, and Pablo Neruda. I grew up in Wisconsin, surrounded by farm communities, and the shape of a story has probably been drawn from how farm men told stories at the gristmill and the fence line, or when church let out standing near their cars, and women massed around a kitchen table injecting commentary during the stories told by others. Growing up, I had a feeling no retelling was accurate, but all were true.

An Interview with Malcolm Friend

In "Cover: 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You'" you have crossed out the lines. Can you generally address this formal aspect and in particular how you would like it (or how would you expect it) to shape a reader's reception of the poem? 

 “Cover: ‘I Just Can’t Stop Loving You’” actually came out of a very particular project I was working on, looking at bachata covers and sampling of popular songs originally by African American artists. As someone who comes from a mixed African American and Puerto Rican household, I was trying to work through the ways in which, though race and antiblackness function differently in the U.S. and Latin America, they still exist in both places. In particular I was interested in the question of whether an Afrolatinx artist (such as Toby Love, whose cover of Michael Jackson’s “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” I was working with in this poem) covering the song of an African American artist could be seen as building some sort of solidarity across the African diaspora. The strike through came about as a way to think about the cover as, especially with these songs that are crossing linguistic boundaries, there’s a good deal of replacement that goes on.

In terms of how to read it, that’s something that’s going to come differently to different readers. However, I was thinking a little bit about Basquiat, and the idea of crossing out words being something that draws attention to them. What I do hope, though, is that the reader feels a sort of intimacy when reading the crossed-out sections—a sense being given interiority.

 When or how did you first realize you were a poet? Can you address how this identity has changed for you, if at all?

I didn’t consider myself a poet when I first started writing poetry in high school. I didn’t really start to consider myself a poet until my junior year of college, when I decided poetry was the form of writing I wanted to dedicate myself to. I think from that moment on, the way I went about poetry changed for me. Before then, I mostly used poetry to make sure I was writing consistently. Once I started to see myself as a poet, poetry became a way to work through the issues important to me. It was a tool I could use to talk about my race and culture, to celebrate them and lament how they’re viewed and treated in society. The longer I’ve been a poet, the more this has become the case.

In light of our current political climate, we often see the phrase, "now more than ever." Do you feel this applies to poetry? If so, how?

I’m hesitant to say “now more than ever.” We’re obviously in very precarious times right now. People’s families and lives are at risk. But I don’t want to belittle or lessen the ways in which those lives have always been at risk. I also don’t want to idealize poetry in a certain way that makes it seem like those of us who are underrepresented and discriminated against and threatened haven’t been constantly making this art and fighting for our right simply to exist at the same time. What I will say is I think that, as always, we’re going to continue that work. We’re going to keep creating these small worlds within our poems because that’s how we go about trying to better the one we live in.

Read Malcolm's poems "Cover: 'I Just Can't Stop Loving You'" and "Ode To Stevie Wonder, or Mom Calls After Milwaukee and All I Can Do I Listen To 'I Wish.'"

An Interview with Matthew Thomas Meade

A story presented in artist bios—what inspired this structure? 

Imagining your bio, or someone reading your list of credits, is something that I think a lot of young artists do before they have any credits to talk about. At least I did. Once I actually tried to write one, however, I found that it was an anxiety ridden experience and one for which I was unprepared. I worried what including certain information and excluding other information would reveal about me. I started reading bios to see what I could learn about writing them and a piece sort of emerged out of that.  

I am interested in the relationship between the artist and her work and the bio is this strange, perfunctory, and false expression of the artist. Its goals are so amorphous. Who is the bio for, I found myself wondering. For other artists? For patrons? For consumers of the art? Does the bio change the piece of art?  

I was surprised to find that there is a poetry to the bio, a rhythm and a grammar that is unique to the form. Reading them requires a strange form of calculus because the details people reveal about themselves often don’t reveal anything at all, but the decision to include those details tells you more about the writer than the details themselves. The reader often has to unpack all the little coded messages included in the bio to understand how the artist is trying to position herself.
Also, I wanted to make up a bunch of funny names for literary & arts mags.  

If you could include something outrageous or less-known about yourself in a traditional bio, what would it be? Or in lieu of a bio, what might you include that represents you in a unique way? 

This question reveals me as a critic of the process with no real solutions of my own. There are so many things that wouldn’t traditionally appear in a bio that have shaped me and my fiction.
Anyone who knows me knows that I have a chip on my shoulder, for example, and that I am deeply paranoid and neurotic, but how am I supposed to express that in a 50-word bio without coming off as disingenuous or unwell? My relationship with my family, the experience of first seeing a Magritte, of attending a lecture Jim Jarmush gave about his work, of embarrassing myself at a party, of strange experiences I had as a kid, are all things that contribute to my perspective on the world, but that do not fit into the understood form of the bio.

Also, like a true hypocrite, I want my work to speak for itself, but I want to be able to use biographical information to contextualize the work of others. I want to be known to a reader, but I also want to remain private and keep my secrets hidden.  

Maybe everyone should just be forced to reveal whether or not they understand Major League Baseball’s infield fly rule and that will tell us enough about the writer to contextualize a story.  

Read Matthew's story "The Ineluctable Necessity of Self-Promotion." 

An Interview with Ted Lardner

Your essay is quite lyrical in its imagery, while densely packed with engaging moments and instances. Can you talk a little about your style, the shape of this piece? 

In "Postcard With Sleeper Cars and the Moffat Tunnel," I got interested in two formal features. One was narrative. In particular, the piece gradually became driven by the need to answer the questions:  What happened to that postcard? What was on it? Why did I throw it away? Thus, the piece, in my subjective experience of writing it, took on, for me, elements of a mystery, the threads of which reached into different strata, so to speak, of memory. The postcard became sort of a focal point for autobiographical and family-historical story lines.  
A second feature that became operative was more poetic. I wanted to order the piece in a way that allowed for a lot of nonlinear, almost free associative leaps. Put a different way, I wanted to hold back the forward progress of the narrative as much as possible, while keeping the energy alive, and the language interesting. Concretely, I began to conceive of each paragraph as an entity unto itself, loosely coupled to the paragraphs ahead and behind, yet with all of them rattling in the same general direction, like train cars. This is especially evident in the final section, the concluding paragraph, which I wrote in an effort to create a caboose for the essay. In the old days at least, the caboose was a completely other kind of car attached to the end of a freight train, a little house on wheels for the brakemen to inhabit. I wanted a caboose paragraph like that for this essay, that flew along at the end, with an almost completely different music in its wheels.

Which writer/body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you? 

Some poets I keep near at almost all times, and I suspect that their tone, or approach to the world, is part of my sensibility as a writer. Some writers who I happen to be reading at the time become proximate influences. I happened to be reading The Dharma Bums again while working on this essay, and Kerouac's attention to sentences and sound in his prose was on my mind. At a deeper level I typically harbor the suspicion of being unfit for the style of today (see Kerouac reference, above). Creative nonfiction is a burgeoning genre in American writing, and memoir and personal narratives are ubiquitous. Much of it is gorgeous and crafted to an impeccable standard. Everything is explained, expertly! On the airwaves, such narrative writing shines, scaffolded by musical interludes, and voiceover narration. Which is all great.  But I hunger, I am ravenous, for writing that throws itself around. I want to write and to read writing that plays, that deals more loosely with its audience's imagined need for coherence, unity, and clarity of idea, that flirts with disaster, risking something even better in return.  I'm interested inaspire towardthe strains of creative nonfiction that make maximum use of sound, association, leaping, imagery, and feeling more than ratiocination.   

Read Ted's essay "Postcard With Sleeper Cars and the Moffat Tunnel."

An Interview with Jordan Floyd

Your essay "Fremont Blues" is an almost mythical portrayal of Vegas though it is based on your true experience. Tell us about it.  

The piece was largely influenced by two things. First, and most obviously, was my brief trip to Las Vegas. I've always been enchanted (which may be weird to say of such a vile place) by Las Vegas. The American Dream, after all, is somewhere near Las Vegas—at least, that's what Hunter S. Thompson thought. Walking down Fremont Street with my then girlfriend was a visceral experience: I was surrounded by gold-plated and flashing decay; sex, sex, and more sex; and most strikingly, a general feeling of in-authenticity. It's that feeling that brings me to my second influence: my own feelings of in-authenticity as a writer and in my relationship, again, with my then girlfriend. I felt that I had nothing new to say. I am a white, middle-class, and heterosexual male—authors like Tom Wolfe and Jack Kerouac, to my mind, had already said everything white, middle-class, and heterosexual males have ever had to say. As such, I tried to draw from Langston Hughes and blues poetry—an artist and art that I believed had a distinct originality. From that, I think my feelings of in-authenticity only increased. And of course, on top of all that, I felt in-authentic in my relationship with my then girlfriend. I'll spare the reader that explanation. 

What's your writing process?

My writing process in ten steps. Step one: write a lot, read the writing, and hate it. Step two: drink a beer. Step three: ruminate on my feelings of hatred toward my writing. Step four: realize that my writing isn't absolutely terrible. Step five: drink another beer (for good measure, maybe a third). Step six: forget about my writing for a couple weeks. Step seven: revisit my writing and, you know, do the whole editing and work-shopping thing with my (truly) fabulous writing peers and professors. Step eight: put some finishing touches on the piece, or, if needed, rewrite the whole damn thing (this happens all too often). Step nine: realize that there is no more beer in the fridge. Step ten: drive to the store to buy beer. 

An Interview with Maureen Langloss

Your story is about a woman's attempt to get rid of a statue. Where did the idea come from? 

Like most things I write, this story is a basket weave of many experiences over many years. First, it was inspired by time I spent in Chile in the 1990s as a consultant for the Center for Reproductive Rights, researching cases of women who were imprisoned for having abortions. Yes, imprisoned! Many of these women were Catholic, and I have had a religious character contemplating abortion percolating in my mind ever since. Second, I must thank the late Lana Ferguson, a beloved librarian at the Guilford Free Library, for telling me what a hard time she once had disposing of a Virgin Mary statue. (Every writer needs a fairy godmother like Lana who’s full of story ideas she doesn’t want to write herself). Third, the story comes from my own experiences with prenatal testing and CVS. And, finally, the setting is my dad’s hometown, Henry, Illinois, a place that I keep returning to in my writing for its novelistic mix of pathos and comedy. I stitched these threads together while reading Nicole Krauss’s History of Love. Not sure why her book was the flint against which my match struck, but I’m in her debt.

What do you find appealing about the short story form?

Compression. I love that every image, every word should be there for a reason. I fail at this over and over again, but I appreciate the challenge. I also love the challenge of trying to make a character real and a story emotionally engaging in such a tight space. Sometimes novels feel flabby and bloated, while poetry can seem too thin. Starving even. The short story sits perfectly in the middle; though I enjoy writing all three genres.

What’s your writing process?

I’ve always written by stealing time from other activities—from my work as a student, then as a lawyer, now as a mother. I work at odd hours in odd spaces. The only constants are a cup of tea and a sore neck. I try to read, go for walks, eavesdrop, and observe the world as much as I can to feed the idea pool. I tend to write a first draft rather quickly and then edit forever. I played with “Chorionic Villus Sampling with the Virgin Mary” over the course of several years. I have a love/hate relationship with everything I write that makes it difficult for me to say goodbye. 

An Interview with Imaani Cain

"Harvest" is engagingly speculative: where did it come from? 

I didn't start working on anything even remotely speculative until I received a copy of Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi from my father. I was ensnared by the tone of it: I wanted to write something that also felt dreamlike and dangerous. 

Who has most influenced/shaped your writing? 

For the most part, I think Migdalia Cruz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Christopher Marlowe have been my biggest influences. They use such rich characterization and dialogue with sparse settings. 

An Interview with Jennifer Fliss

The speculative aspect of this storya tiny woman appearing in a woman's terrariumis very intriguingboth sad and compelling. Where did this story come from?  

My husband says I should write a collection called "The Tiny Woman Diaries." I have a few stories of little women living in odd places. It wasn't intentional; the specific stories just came to me. I have a little terrarium (a few actually) and I look at it and see a microcosmic set/stage/world. The only thing missing are the people. 

Which writer/body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you? 

I love Jonathan Lethem and Rebecca Makkai, both of whom inspire my story ideas and writing. I've been on a Helen Oyeyemi kick, working through the beautiful things she's written. I'll read any and all fiction Nicholas Christopher puts out there (if you're wondering, start with Veronica or A Trip to the Stars). There's a writer named Kendra Fortmeyer who is, I guess you'd say, "up and coming," and somehow I came across her fiction and fell in love. Her stories often are fantastical while being grounded in reality; I love that combination. When I read her stories I felt I had permission to get weird with my own stories—something I was already leaning towards. But when I write something really strange, I wonder, Really? Will people get this? Would they even like to read this?

An Interview with Mathew Serback

What do you find appealing about the short-short/flash story form? 

Flash fiction offers a bit of instant gratification, for both the reader and the writer. My shorts are meant to be bite-sized moments from a complicated life. These moments are intended to be consumed quickly while still offering up ideas that challenge and stay with the reader even after they have finished the piece. And the ultimate goal of writing is to connect with the reader; flash fiction is an easy avenue to do that. 

Interesting titlehow does it connect to the story? 

For me, I like how poetry uses titles to enhance how a piece is read. "Craigslist Ad" is supposed to offer up some duality and strangeness to the story. Unfortunately, I know people that were addicted to hard drugs, and one of the things I learned from them is that if you need drugs, but don't have money, you can surf sites like Craigslist to find people who are willing to give you drugs or money in exchange for sex. In that regard, the story presents the duality of man from India's story about offering sexual favors for drugs while also introducing the idea that the main character is facing a similar situation. The main character may not be trading sex for drugs/alcohol, but he's certainly living a less than ideal life that could lead him down a similar path ("It won't be the last time" is both in reference to the main character laughing at a tragic moment, but also the fact that there are more tragic moments to come). 

An Interview with Angela Doll Carlson

What do you find most appealing about the flash form?

I think, perhaps, it was my short attention span that launched me into reading flash fiction, but it was the craft of it that kept me coming back: the precise nature of each word as it bumps up against the other words. I like that it knocks on the door of my inner poet, and invites that part of me into the fiction writing process. 

Do you believe in ghosts? We're wondering what inspired this story? 

I do believe in ghosts, in one form or another. Probably not as traditionally as most people think of it, though, but more like stray thoughts or left-over emotion that have become embedded into the solid world. When I was a kid we thought our house was haunted, and perhaps it was—things moved, sounds came, cold air filled spaces suddenly, but it may have been that we were not so terribly well-anchored at that time in our family. This is a kind of haunting, too. So, this was an inspiration, along with the reason for our family ghost, my dad’s PTSD from Viet Nam.

An Interview with Megan Turner

What do you find appealing about the short story form? 

The short story is appealing because it forces you to get everything right. As one of my professors once said, there isn’t any room for error. Everything—each sentence, character, and plot twist—needs to be essential to the piece. This may sound unappealing, but I think from a writer’s standpoint, the short story offers up a challenge of sorts. If a writer can master this form, she has the ability to master almost anything.  

What influenced this piece? 

I consider “The Gray Hours” to be part of a series of short stories, all focused on language. I wrote this piece with the intention of evoking a certain mood related to solitude and depression. I was especially interested in the narrator’s ability to find something meaningful and appealing in her environment, despite its flaws. 

Which writer/body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you? 

I tend to like work that is focused on language but also tests the limits of form. Some of my favorite contemporary writers are Marilynne Robinson, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie, and Colum McCann. My most recent, favorite reads are: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, The Ocean at the End of Lane by Neil Gaiman, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (which I am currently reading). 

An Interview with Michael Brown Jr.

What was your inspiration for "When We Were Young"?

When We Were Young was written during the workshop I attended at Cave Canem, inspired by a day I had gone over to Webster and Tremont in the Bronx to help my mom with Thanksgiving shopping after being away from the area for so long, so when I went there and saw that a huge swath had been levelled for construction, I started reminiscing about old times. It had been a big hangout spot during high school for a friend, my brother, and I. We'd just stand on the corner watching the many goings-on around the neighborhood involving the local homeless population. There were many crazy things we witnessed worthy of a whole volume of poetry. 

If you had to choose one poem to be the only poem you would ever read, what would it be?

One poem? I'd have to say "The Banjo Player" by Fenton Johnson. It's a great poem, and lyrically it's stunning in conveying the feelings of an itinerant musician in simple speech without resorting to exaggerated dialect but maintaining a cadence and beauty to an otherwise unremarkable situation. The last two lines are particularly poignant and humorous, "But I fear that I am a failure. Last night a woman/ called me a troubadour. What is a troubadour?" I feel as though if I never read another line of poetry, I could read just those two lines for the rest of my life. 

An Interview with Matthew Hill

If you had to choose only one poem to keep you company on a deserted island, what would it be?

Right now I would probably choose "In My Craft or Sullen Art" by Dylan Thomas.  The succinctness of the imagery, the "writerly" argument, the break of the lines, the senses of resolution and abandonment that are continually at tension hereevery time I return to this poem I'm rejuvenated.

What body of work or poet has been influential for your development as a poet?

I've been particularly struck with the work of Walt Whitman, Virginia Woolf, Ted Hughes, Italo Calvino, W.G. Sebald, and (more recently) Joshua McKinney, Lisa Ciccarello, and Sara Eliza Johnson.  Music is also an enormous influence on me, and the emotional textures of the oeuvres of Burial, The Field, and Tycho in particular have definitely informed my writing.

An Interview with Kim Magowan

This story centers on a woman unhingedfor better or worse. What influenced this piece? 

In the spring and summer of 2015, I wrote 5 stories that featured girls who were struggling. None of them were receiving adequate support from the adults in their lives. Three of those stories were linked. Bird's Thumb published a story last October about Laurel's friend Ellie, where Laurel makes an appearance; in June 2015 Word Riot published a story from Laurel's perspective (a story I picture as showing up in that green vellum journal that her mother Alice decides not to read). This story, "Warmer, Colder," was the first of the set I wrote, and the most disturbing of the three. Afterwards, I wondered what was going on with Laurel's mother that Alice would be so checked out, so oblivious to her daughter's circumstances. I remember many years ago, my mother telling me she thought she was a good mother, "Within the limits of my personality." That phrase stuck with me (I was 18 or 19, when she said it, and I remember thinking, "I need to use that line in a story some day." Indeed it does show up in the novel I am currently working on. What can I say? Writers are thieves!) Especially after having my own children, I feel struck by how parenting makes peopleat least, responsible parentstable their own emotions, rage, despair, self-destructive impulses, anarchic desires, for the sake of their children. Alice has crossed a line where she can't do that anymore: She's an artist who has gone a bit blind. Alice cannot protect her daughter or herself from her state of coming unstrung. That is, she can't, until something forces her to take a look at Laurel and to see the damage that her self-absorption and depression are helping inflict, but also inducing Alice to miss. I like the way the story landsliterally: Alice coming back to earth, beginning to pay attention, to open her eyes.

An Interview with Shamae Budd

What are the challenges and rewards of composing creative nonfiction? How does it compare to other genres you've used? 

I know an essay is going somewhere good when I start to make discoveries about my thoughts, my relationships, and my place in the world. But interrogating yourself and your interior space can be intimidating, and sometimes painful. So, the risks and rewards of creative nonfiction are often one and the same for me: honest introspection can be both brutal and revelatory.
Even when I’ve worked in poetry (frequently) and fiction (a handful of times), I’ve usually still worked exclusively from real-life experience. (What can I say? I’m an essayist at heart!) The biggest difference for me when working across genres is that I prioritize narrative when composing fiction, and I prioritize image when writing poetry. In creative nonfiction, I believe that introspection and reflection are king; for me, thinking on the page is where the heart of an essay will be found. 

Which writer or body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you? 

Philip Lopate, Scott Russell Sanders, EB White, Ann Fadiman, Amy Leach. Too many to name. For this essay, I tried to channel some of the moves that Sanders makes in his beautiful, heart-wrenching essay “Under the Influence.” (If you haven’t read it, do.) Sanders chooses to tell us how the story ends at the very beginning—his father dies of alcoholism—which I believe de-emphasizes the suspense of the story and instead focuses the reader’s attention on why the story matters. And by thinking through the implications of his father’s alcoholism on the page, Sanders goes beyond the events of the story he’s telling. It’s more than narrative—though the narrative is important too. He implicates himself in ways that are honest and difficult, thinking through not only the story of his childhood, but also the story of his current self—his personality and habits and failures. This is the kind of self-interrogation I hope to achieve whenever I write.

An Interview with Krista Varela

What do you find appealing about the personal essay? 

It can be really overwhelming to try to sift through all the potential material inside of my head sometimes. It’s hard to not want to write about everything. But you don’t have the ability to go in depth when you do that. An essay really forces me to slow down, to sit and grapple with one idea, character, or event and consider it deeplyto look at whatever I’m writing about from multiple perspectives. Plus, essays feel more manageable for me. I’m working on a book-length project right now, and I keep coming back to essays because when I finish one, it makes me feel like I’ve accomplished something. It helps keep the momentum going.

What influenced this piece? 

I was taking a craft class on the concept of time, and we had just read Joseph Brodsky’s “In a Room and a Half.” I was thinking a lot about the way that time, place, and character all influence one another, and his essay really served as a model for how those elements can work together. I had been wanting to write about my childhood home for a while, but wasn’t sure how to structure the piece. Using the house as the central character of the essay and writing about the memories associated with each room, rather than using it as just the setting and writing a chronological narrative of living there, really opened up the possibilities for me.

Which writer/body of work has informed your writing and/or inspired you? 

I’m a big fan of Jo Ann Beard and Abigail Thomas. Both women have taught me about writing from a raw and vulnerable place. The Boys of My Youth taught me how to write scene and really challenged my perspective about what creative nonfiction is or isn’t. A Three Dog Life and Safekeeping are the books I keep coming back to again and again for crafting a narrator that is honest with herself and embraces her flaws. Because who wants to read about a narrator that is perfect?