If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
R.L. Stine. The first books I fell in love with as a child were his Goosebumps series. My mom would take me to the local bookstore every Wednesday, where the new title would be available, and I’d rub the raised letters on the cover all the way home. It seems unlikely, today, that parents would so value their children reading horror novellas, but the 90s were a strange time. I’d like to thank him for bringing me to literature. What would I cook him? Monster blood soup with grilled cheese and die, obviously.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
Starting. I am a pretty dedicated writer who, in the midst of a project, will write 1000 words per day no matter what. I’ve set my expectations pretty low, so if I end up with 1000 words of rubbish I don’t self-flagellate, but it’s a nice goal that gets me active. Nevertheless, every time I sit down to write, I feel some form of anxiety. Like a snowball, the longer I work the more comfortable I feel (and about 700 words in the richness starts to arrive), which means I end up editing out much more than I end up saving—but scooping up the snow to start is hard. Something about sitting down with all of the desire I have to make my designs right makes me want to quit before I get going. Like many creative people, I start a project with a central thesis or motivation, and painting that beautifully without losing my intention drags me whining to my writing. An old friend once called me histrionic; she was right.
But I’m also a rock climber. And rock climbers spend their days horrified. Leaving the relative comforts of gravity to climb hundreds of feet of peril teaches one thing: that fear is a necessary part of life and the only way to overcome it is to go bold out into it. This is how I combat my writing fear. I overcome the anxiety of starting writing by starting, every day.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
I think the best living short story writer is Lorrie Moore. Once, when I met her at a book signing, I quipped (I thought cleverly) that she must be tired of writing her name so many times. She responded, “Just be glad I didn’t sign it Morrie Loore.” I suppose I would count her my literary crush because I wish I could write with even 1/3 the brilliance that she does; the way she can combine tragedy with lancing wit is a thing of beauty about which I wish to aspire.
She’d turn me down.
What books are on your nightstand?
Leaves of Grass—Walt Whitman
Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
I often do not feel responsible for my ideas. I am partial to the Greek notion of muses, who whisper artistic inspiration to the otherwise lame imbecile. Or, better, Vonnegut’s assertion that aliens beam story ideas into his head via an implanted antenna. But, in truth, I am inspired to react to this world and my feelings of responsibility to it; I faithfully believe that the writer is responsible for not only continuing the ringing of past bells but also reacting to the realities of the time when they live. Literature is a cultural artifact, so in a way, the writer is both the bones that become fossils and the archaeologist.
I have no intention of writing a masterpiece. I am fine with writing small, next-to-nothings. If we think of the whole of literature to be one great book, I am happy to be a page—a paragraph, a well-placed word!—between its covers.
What I hope is that I experience life—whatever that means—consume it, digest it, refine it, and regurgitate it in words so that someone can see it and maybe recognize a few of the pitfalls and footholds.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
Perhaps the semi-colon, because I think I know what it is for; or, maybe, the long dash, because I don’t really know what it is for—but that gives it its power.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
That math textbook.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
The woods. A mountain.
Why do you write? The first 5 words that come to mind. Go.
Fidelity, community, boldness, bravery, and beauty.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
Do not be afraid of yourself; trust in the songs you sing.