“Be patient and learn to enjoy the work, not just the praise.”
Arcade Seventeen (TAR –The Atlas Review’s Chapbook Series, 2017)
Could you share with us a representative or pivotal story from your chapbook? Perhaps something that introduces the work of the chapbook, or that invites the reader into the world of the chapbook?
Why did you choose this story?
I think I chose this story because it blends a lot of the elements of the collection: dream-like circumstances, thinking about social issues, imagery, and although it feels weird to describe myself this way, playfulness.
What obsessions led you to write your chapbook?
I started this during a class about creative writing and the tarot. It was taught by Cathy Bowman. And I ended up getting really involved with the cards for a while. I mean I still am into reading the cards, but it’s nowhere near what it was like during that time. I was making my own decks, I was writing associatively inside and outside of class using pulled cards from different decks (Rider-Waite, Thoth, Pagan Cats, The Wild Unknown, among others). I use the word involved because it felt like I was building a deep relationship. I was learning how to use them, and I found it deeply interesting. I was even occasionally dreaming about the cards. Reading them. Speaking to them. Walking one like a dog. I think what really appeals to me about the tarot is how much an image can resonant and tell its own story.
I think a lot of prose writers can get in a habit of using images as decoration on a story rather than another way to convey story, character, or emotion. A great image can do at least one of those things.
What’s your chapbook about?
I think it’s about transformations. To be alive, especially today where I think more people–if they’re willing to engage with others–have more access to different points of view than ever before, is to be changed in very small ways every single day. I think I just tried to say in a roundabout way, it’s about life, man. And I guess it is if you have room in your life for going to horse heaven, wanting to move away to live with cranes, and falling in love with a dream centaur.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one piece that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest story in this chapbook is “The Tragic Jet Ski Accident of 2011.” It’s actually the first story I ever had accepted for publication (in the lovely, but now defunct >kill author). I wrote it initially as an exercise: write a story where every paragraph was a line. I’m always going to love this story–even though I do think I’ve become a much better writer since–because it was the first story I had confidence in to actually send out and it was the first one to ever get accepted.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook?
I printed all the stories out and put them on the ground. I looked for images and moments that felt like they were in conversation with each other. I also looked for stories/images/ideas that felt like twins and made sure to put those farther apart. I get really bugged (with my work and when reading other’s collections) when I notice a lot of unconsidered repetition. Usually I’m writing multiple stories at once (drafting, revising, etc.) and there are times where I’m trying out sentences and a similar construction or image ends up in both stories. I am fairly good at catching this. But every once in a while–especially if I feel like one is done much sooner than the other–things slip through. I can’t tell if this is over the top hard on myself or necessary perfectionism, but I still wince sometimes when I think of the stories I have in Best Small Fictions 2016. I’m honored and glad that I had two stories in the collection. But they have lines that mirror each other in style and image, and it’s so obvious to me that I was writing them at the same time and let it slide.
What was the final piece you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
The final piece I wrote and significantly revised was “Again and Again and Again.” I wrote it while I was feeling miserable about Philandro Castile and his murder. I kept coming back to the fact that his four-year-old daughter was in the car. She saw the whole thing. There are times where I feel like I have the “right” reaction to these things: I call legislatures, I give money, I protest, I encourage my friends who might be less willing to think about these things to think, talk, react (and hopefully they spread it on to their friends). And there are times where I have a get me the fuck off this planet reaction. That’s what I had while reading and thinking about Philandro Castile, his girlfriend, and daughter.
What has the editorial and production experience with the press who picked up your chapbook been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
Natalie Eilbert has been my main contact for TAR. And she has been incredible. Natalie is one of the best sentence-level editors I’ve worked with. She’s someone who can take a story that feels a little dingy from time, distance, and a word or two too many in a sentence, and make it feel brand-new and beautiful.
Natalie did all the interior design, let me weigh in (the extent of my comments was basically !!!!! I love it!!!!!). Emily Raw did the exterior. I skyped with the two of them after Emily had read and thought about my book. It will probably be one of the most flattering meetings of my entire life. Emily came in with a vision board of ideas (geometric shapes, exciting colors, and talked to me about the way the book made her feel. She wanted to make a cover that mimicked the “eye coffee” feel of the book. I love that phrase: eye coffee.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently (with the supervision/cheerleading/coaching/friendship of my agent, Taylor Templeton) finishing a polished draft of my first novel. I’m excited.
If you could choose another artistic path (painting, music, dance, etc.) what would it be and why?
I would be in a band where I got to wear very expensive, very dark sunglasses. I would hit the buttons on a drum machine and smoke a cigarette. I would do a lot of staring while the rest of the band did all the work. I would demand at minimum five thousand dollars for each performance. Sick beats deserve sick pay.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?
There are two things, when I taught, that I feel like I always told my students who I knew were talented and would keep writing: Be patient and learn to enjoy the work, not just the praise. I think I’ve gotten to the point where I’ve learned to love the work of it, but I’m still working on the patience part of it. Patience is sometimes needed to fully understand a story or character. Patience is also needed when you’re finally writing that book. And I think patience is definitely needed when you decide to publish that first book. There are a lot of writers who I think are so, I think the polite way to put it is, eager to have that first full-length. And I mean I want to be there too. It’s a big accomplishment, I get it. But there are times where I think really great writers are only putting out good (rather than the great books they’re capable) because they want it now rather than be willing to wait and work with an editor and press who fit well with them.