What first informed your writing process for “Spent”, and for other stories you write? Would it be a character, a scene, a theme, the beginning and end?
For me, story ideas usually come while I’m working on something completely unrelated to writing—dishes or laundry or something physical, but mundane enough to let my mind mumble for a while. Sometimes, a first line will pop into my head and the story will root downward from that. But usually, it’s a flash of a feeling winking at m e, and then the characters and their surroundings build from it.
“Spent” came like this—from a feeling, the remorse of only having one life to spend. Even if we hold love in armfuls—real love, true love, good love—there will always be a life you can’t be living, a timeline you’ve left behind. I think this feeling is akin to the German word, Fernweh: a longing for a place you’ve never been. But in this case, it’s a life you will never have.
Would you describe your writing process more as a schedule/regimen or as free-flowing, when the inspiration strikes?
Not going to lie, when I have a steaming cup of morning coffee in hand, and the sun’s slipping inside the room just right, sideways, highlighting the steam, and my cat curls up at my feet, well, I certainly feel like an official writer then, which must count for something.
I like to write in the morning, until after lunch. These are my best hours, and I do stick with them, give or take a few quarantine detours here and there.
We all face writer’s block one time or another. How do you deal with writer’s block?
I take a break from writing. Some writers work through writer’s block by forging onward, but I’ve found that doesn’t work for me. I could spend hours poking at the keys, creating nothing, frustrated. I will get up and do something else productive—read, clean the kitchen, exercise, spend time with my family, make music—until the dam loosens and an idea comes.
On social media, you participate with the #vss twitter hashtag which posts small poems online, and you participate with the Barrelhouse write-ins. Though writing is often portrayed as a solitary process, how much does community play into your writing process?
Honestly, I probably wouldn’t write without the writing community. I enjoy interacting with other writers on social media, reading their pieces, and am constantly learning new things from them. I thrive within limitations, deadlines, someone holding me to task, as it were, and the online write-ins, classes, and prompts all do just that. I adore participating in them.
Of course, the counterbalance of Twitter is the time alone writing. But ultimately, I don’t want to write into a void. I do hope that someone, somewhere will read my 280 characters, and enjoy them—and maybe even my longer stories too.
What would you say is your cat’s role in your writing process?
I love this question. I read a comment somewhere that having a cat doesn’t automatically make you a writer. Sure, but they do make excellent and quiet companions, especially to the mostly immobile—i.e., writers.
You write both poetry and prose. In your writing, how solid is the line that separates them?
I lean towards the poetic in my prose, without a doubt. It sneaks in and I can’t help it and I don’t think that will ever change.
I noticed in your author bio that you also took German as an undergrad—does knowing another language inform your writing process at all?
I would say it affects my writing process only in that it has given me a better understanding of English grammar in general—dative, accusative, etc…. I have always wanted to try writing poetry in German.
In your short story “The Coffee Can” published by Lunate, you made a brief mention of Oregon where you live, but semi-autobiographical details like that aren’t always as obvious. To what extent do you think your writing is autobiographical?
It depends on the story. While not purely autobiographical, there are parts of my life that bleed into my writing, memories I’ll always hold tight, like all of us have, I imagine. I cut plenty of burrows in blackberry thickets as a child, and buried many a coffee can. But most of the time, even if the story has the roots of my experience, the characters invariably take over and write their own tale, of which I am no part except as medium.
I was struck by the narrative arc of the endings of your three published stories. In “The Runner”, it ends on a positive note, “all she could hear was hope”. In “The Coffee Can”, it was a note of resignation, “maybe I need nothing more than this”. And in “Spent” it ends on a note of cyclical, never-ending repetition, “as if I never got up at all”. Across genres, across forms, do you think of your writing as tracing a development? Or in your mind, do you think of them as completely separate entities?
Almost all my stories and poems are separate entities, each with their own voice and backgrounds and quirks. And only a few of them crossover. But I’d argue they do all end with hope, even the sad ones. I think even in the worst situations, there is always hope, and believe this seeps into the corners of my stories, even if it doesn’t fill the centers of them.
Your story “The Runner” was published in an anthology of resistance poetry and fiction. Do you view your writing as resistive? If so, what do you think it resists?
Some of my writing speaks to resistance, absolutely. Words matter, for good or for folly. And for all the folly coming from the mouths and signatures of some of our leaders right now, the least I can do is try to use my words for good. For me, that means easing the seams of hearts with stories in attempt to show that all humans want the same things: a safe place to live and sleep, food to eat, access to knowledge, a wage on which to thrive not just live, and most importantly, the opportunity in the first place to achieve these things.
On a similar note, do you feel about dystopian stories in a time that already feels quite dystopian?
I love dystopian stories, especially now. I see them more as cautionary tales, then as fiction.
And finally, I’m curious how you might re-imagine “Spent” that takes place in a stay-at-home world. As a thought experiment, what do you think would change about their relationship? How would the husband’s patronizing “imprisonment” (“don’t wander too far”) and lack of recognition for what she does at home change when he must stay imprisoned at home too? Or would it change at all?
Oh, this is an interesting story world to consider. I’d say, sharing the full burden of taking care of the baby, would come as quite a shock to the husband and I don’t think the narrator would settle for anything less than equal time in this alternative universe. A schedule would be set, for households chore, as well as self- and childcare, and duties split evenly as such. Both of them would be stay at home parents, in the same environment, with the same simple expectations: Keep the baby alive. Clean the house. Cultivate quality time, if possible.
I’d hope the time together would allow them both to see the value in each other. And if not, I guess it’s much easier to be alone in a pandemic, then keep someone’s company who doesn’t honor your worth.