Papermaker by Monica Wood
What was the biggest challenge transitioning between writing fiction and writing drama?
It actually felt pretty easy. Because my favorite part of fiction writing is dialogue, having ONLY that one tool was delightful, if somewhat limiting. It takes so much less time to write a scene in only dialogue, so it feels far less distressing to toss pages and pages of drafts.
Do you read your work aloud as your write? Or do you listen to your writing after the piece is finished?
I have always read my work aloud before the final drafts. Mainly I read to my cats, who have been good sports. My favorite cat ever used to listen until I was finished. The others eventually fall asleep.
Do you have a fabulous, very dramatic moment from your writing career you can tell us about?
The first paperback edition of ERNIE’S ARK was accidentally printed with 30 pages of a completely different book. Good times.
SHORT WORKS POETRY WINNER
Do you always write the first draft of a poem in one sitting?
I have been grateful on those exceedingly rare, early mornings when the muse has visited, when words have called to words, and I’ve been fortunate enough to set down on paper more than just a whiff or a shadow of a poem. The rest of time, I have to go on arduous days’-long hunts, looking for bent twigs, faint tracks, then aiming and missing and aiming again.
As a Waldorf high school teacher, what do you believe is the most important thing for a student to know about writing original, honest poetry?
I imagine that the hardest part for any poet, regardless of age, is to find one’s own voice. This is even truer for young people who are just discovering the range and depth and different timbres of their voices. That said, I often ask students to write “in the manner of” one great poet or another, so that they can begin to experience the “I” within the “not I.” Anyway, I heartily subscribe to some German philosopher’s declaration that “whatever the self describes, describes the self.” If my students can ground their work in concrete, descriptive imagery, their poetry will begin to possess that authentic, gritty feel most of us hope for.
Do you have a favorite word?
Depends upon the day—“scour” has a nice ring; so does “Gramps” when my three-year-old granddaughter prevails upon me; in one of my poems, “Sexagenarian” seemed a rich and loaded word, especially since I wrote that it sounded “so promising, so misleading.”
Little Arias by Kristen Case
Who is your favorite poet, and do you remember when/how you were first introduced to their work?
I really don’t have a favorite. It’s always changing. A poet I particularly love right now is Gustav Sobin, who my friend Joseph Massey recently introduced me to. But also: Dickinson, Stevens, Bishop, Rosemarie Waldrop, Susan Howe.
Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music, drink tea, dim the lights?
No ritual, really, though a cup of coffee always makes me feel more ready to undertake anything difficult, so usually I’ll have one near at hand. And I like to have lots of books around. It helps to remember the words I’m writing are also other people’s words, that my writing is in dialogue with other people’s writing.
What is the most important or powerful punctuation mark?
Well, none of them would be what they are without the others, so I can’t choose a favorite, but I’m partial to the dash because of its versatility and ambiguity. A way of marking a space between things—like a rest in music.
SHORT WORKS NONFICTION WINNER
“The Sound of Galton’s Whistle” by Penny Guisinger
What is your favorite time of day to write? Day of the week? Season?
I am most prolific during times when I write early in the morning. When I set my alarm and get up before everyone else, and I do that regularly, I make a lot of pages. It’s a time of day when nobody wants anything from me and I am essentially alone. I’m not currently in a phase like that, but it comes and goes. Summer is a very difficult time for me to write. I like fall and winter best. I like to write next to the woodstove when there’s a fire inside. The sounds it makes and the light it gives off are very comforting.
How much of your nonfiction is inspired by something you’ve read? Does your process begin with research, or do you research as you write?
I don’t think that any of my subject matter is inspired directly by what I read. I certainly learn a lot about craft and the forms I love by reading other writers, but the things I’m writing about spring directly from my life. My process is to begin with something I remember – some scene or memory that has presented itself – and then excavating it to see where it leads. I remain open to possibilities and follow whatever whim presents itself. I research as I write – Google is my friend! It’s a gift to be able to chase after some small fact that can reveal itself as hugely important to the story. I make unlikely connections between things by digging into them, and that can enhance the meaning of the piece.
Do you believe writing and playing music are connected? Are you ever influence musically from something you’ve written, or vise versa?
I am a musician. I perform as part of a duo with my partner, Kara. Playing music and writing are connected only insofar as they are both forms of expression, but I feel like they stimulate very different parts of my brain. Performing is so public and writing is not – I have to push myself in different ways to do either one. What I do connect to writing are the things I learn from listening carefully to song lyrics. I am always amazed by the amount of story and character development that songwriters can work into such a short space.
Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti
Where do you primarily gather your research? How much of the inspiration for Love and Other Ways of Dying came from your own travel experiences?
Well, this book, being a collection of essays and articles gathered over about 18 years, included a lot of travel, specific trips made to write specifically about the things that obsessed me: to France in order to eat Francois Mitterand’s last meal, across America with Einstein’s brain, to Cambodia to cover the genocide trials, to Haiti and Japan and Sudan to write about amazing people with amazing stories about having survived various disasters. I’m really on the lookout for real people who carry some sort of metaphorical weight, or the weight of history. In this way, the work is inextricably linked to the travel for me. By disappearing into new worlds, we keep meeting ourselves over and over again.
What is the most eye-opening nonfiction book you’ve read in the past five years?
Oh man—we live in the era of mixed reality, and I’ve always been really interested in hybrids, as well, or less interested in marketing-made genres of literature. I think poets like Campbell McGrath or Kay Ryan are writing a certain kind of nonfiction when they write their poems, and I think Karl Ove Knausgaard is writing his truth with “My Struggle,” though it’s called fiction. But if forced, the book that really kind of astonished me was “Swan Song 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich,” the last and only translated volume of Walter Kempowski’s epic, first-person history of World War Two, told in the voices of the war, from letters, diaries, other autobiographical material. I don’t really have a thing about World War Two at all, but I read the opening, and I just couldn’t put it down. It covers four days in 1945, from Hitler’s birthday to his suicide, and it’s breathtaking. The real marvel is how suspenseful it is, and how deeply gratifying and heartbreaking in the end. The weaving of the story is brilliant, all from living artifacts. Some characters repeat, some intensify the narrative. It’s an absolute feat.
If you could have lived in a different time period and/or place, when and where would you pick?
I’m gonna make myself a cliche here and say it’d be hard to vote against the heady birth-of-America time, the days of Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, etc.. Obviously Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play has put that era back in our collective consciousness, but it’s one of those rare moments in history when writers and words mattered more than all else. And, c’mon, the outfits: they’re great!
YOUTH FICTION WINNER
Do you have a literary hero? A teacher, mentor, family member, author who has inspired you to write stories?
A literary hero of mine is Stephen King. He has written so many famous works and they are all such good stories. We grew up in the same town, I live a few roads away from his old house, so I feel like I have a connection to him in some way.
What is your favorite class in school? Is that what you would like to pursue after high school?
My favorite class in school last year was biology. I find it fascinating on all levels, both on the level of the whole organism to cells to molecules. I hope someday to work this interest into a career. It is my interest to become a doctor or other form of scientist.
Can you think of a book or story (or even television show!) that you think honestly and accurately depicts today’s life as a high-schooler?
I honestly can’t think of any stories or media that portray high school life at all other than High School Musical. Real high school life is not much like High School Musical, although I wish it was!
JOHN N. COLE AWARD FOR MAINE-THEMED NONFICTION WINNER
Ghost Buck by Dean Bennett
You’ve taught classes to students of all ages, across multiple disciplines. What is the first thing you tell a class on the first day?
In my forty or so years of teaching all ages in several disciplines, I have approached my students with the idea that the course or class will be a mutual exploration of the subject–teacher and student learning together. The teacher and students have information and perspectives that will help each other grasp the meaning of the subject. This will be a learning journey as is life, and we will be guided by a few goals and objectives but not limited by them for we don’t know quite where our journey will take us.
What is your favorite childhood memory of hunting in Maine?
My favorite childhood memory of hunting in Maine is standing by the side of my grandfather in the darkness of early morning waiting in a clump of fir trees by deer tracks made the day before. We each had a gun, my grandfather with a shotgun and I with an old rifle. We heard the crack of a stick breaking on the hill in front of us. My grandfather, who didn’t have any teeth, turned and gave me a toothless grin. Soon, we heard another sound–a thumping. A deer? Or was it my heart? My grandfather tensed. Then a deer stepped out and almost instantly raised its head and blew an alarm. I pulled the trigger of a shaking gun, hearing only one shot. Then the sound of hoofbeats on the frozen ground going back up the hill. We stepped out of the firs. I asked my grandfather, “Did you shoot?” He asked me, “Did you shoot?” Then we realized that we had both shot at exactly the same instant. And then after a search of the area over the next hour, we also realized that, despite two sets of eyes and ears and two guns, we had missed the deer. But we did have a memory that we shared through the remaining years of my grandfather’s life.
What is the first thing you do when you sit down to write? How do you get in the right mindset?
When I sit down to write, the first thing that is on my mind is how to capture the reader’s interest so that the reader will be drawn to the next sentence and the next, and on and on. I think about the reader, sometimes a person I know who will be reading what I write, and how I can tell the story to keep her or him reading.
YOUNG PEOPLE’S LITERATURE WINNER
Either the Beginning or the End of the World by Terry Farish
Is there a book that you read in grade school that still resonates with you now?
I was crazy about the Black Stallion mysteries. The boy in the book called the horse simply The Black which has been family shorthand talk ever since. I remember my 9-year old self loving the physical power of The Black and I loved that the boy and The Black survived because of each other. They made a movie and as beautiful as the movie was, it had absolutely none of the power of reading those words and caring so desperately for the horse when I was a girl. Today I’m reading The Mare by Mary Gaitskill, a brilliant view of class, race, white privilege, motherhood, daughterhood. Gaitskill drives the novel by the ambition of a girl to ride a wild, dangerous horse. I understand how we play out much of our lives in relation to animals and maybe find our truest selves.
Who or what was the main inspiration behind Either at the Beginning or the End of the World?
After I finished writing an earlier novel, The Good Braider, about a young woman making her way in America after surviving war in South Sudan, the story remained with me as a beginning. I knew the protagonist, Viola, had taken first steps to re-create herself in her new home. In Either the Beginning or the End of the World, I wanted to understand a family and the long-term impact of the war they survived. I worked at the Cambodian Mutual Assistance Association in Lowell, MA and met many teens and families who first came to the U.S. in the 1980s. My character, Sophea, in Either the Beginning or the End, is contemporary, a third generation teen raised by her Scottish-American fishermen dad and in the beginning is estranged from her Cambodian mom. I wanted to understand how a girl who had not been in a war but was raised in a family’s trauma, might begin to heal.
What is the best thing about being a 13-year-old?
To be lost in books. To be reading books I had not heard of, simply the book in my hands. It had no reputation. It was just me and the novel and everything about it was new and stunning and the novels created my world. I read every kind of thing and they were my secret world and I began my journal writing, more secret yet. As an adult, I wrote an essay about being nostalgic for never having read The Old Man and the Sea which is the most perfectly written and constructed novel still to me. When I was 13, I was taking it all in for the very first time. It was before Robert Cormier and YA lit. The literature was all mixed up, as it still is to me.
Closer All the Time by Jim Nichols
What is the most significant book you remember from your childhood?
The most significant book was probably my father’s fragile first edition of Campfire and Battlefield: An Illustrated History of the Great Civil War (Rossiter Johnson, 1894), a huge tome that was a near-contemporary history with contributions by various surviving generals and other concerned parties, including George Pickett’s wife. It was also illustrated by over 1000 Mathew Brady photographs. I spent many hours leafing carefully through that amazing book.
But the one I remember best was a children’s book about the War of 1812 called Adam Lee (written by the prolific husband/wife team of Bertha B. and Ernest Cobb). I never lost the images that book left in my mind, and in fact fifty years after the fact finally succeeded in tracking down a copy to try and see why. I found it dated, for sure, but still a page-turner, and I think the reason I loved it was that it took me vividly to another time and place in a way that Campfire and Battlefield couldn’t: as a participant. (Re-reading it took me back to another time and place, too: a time when a single summer could last forever, where family was everything and books were adventures waiting to happen).
Which is harder: writing the first sentence or the last sentence of a novel?
Oh, I think the last sentence. It has to arise organically from all that’s gone before, in a way that encompasses and explains at the same time , without being too obvious. It has to be successfully theme-related. And unlike the first sentence, it doesn’t have the sort of helping hand that a second and third sentence provide. Nope, it has to lead the readers to that final period and leave them happy. Or at least satisfied.
What is your favorite word?
I think it must be “little”, as in the phrase “a little”, because I have to line-edit that phrase out of so many or my sentences. (“He was a little tired” becomes “He was tired”. “He laughed a little” becomes “He laughed”, ad infinitum). Seriously, though, I like words that sound like what they mean, like “scuttle” or “giggle” or “scowl”, and words that raise easy images in a reader’s mind. I guess this is because I like to write visually.
How to Cook a Moose by Kate Christensen
What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself from studying your own life and writing a memoir?
I learned that a lot of what I thought I knew and remembered about my own life, so many things, big and small, about my past and family and myself, were subjective, mutable, often self-serving constructs, much of which wasn’t strictly accurate. And once I let go of my initial need to control the narrative, I learned that memoir writing can be deeply liberating if you allow yourself to realize that it’s a process of discovery rather than recounting.
Who is the first person you ask to read your writing?
Luckily for me, I live with a fellow writer. Brendan and I are each other’s sounding boards for ideas, first readers, first editors, and, of course, greatest fans, although we can be hard on each other. He’s a lot younger than I am. He’s starting out, and I’m in mid-stride, and the balance is helpful for us both. He reminds me of what it’s like to be young, ambitious, with fire and energy. And I offer him perspective and, I hope, some wisdom.
You mention the importance of food throughout your life—growing up in Arizona with hot dogs, making ‘mousse au chocolat’ during your European travels, and suffering endless Ramen noodles during college. What meal or food best defines your life right now?
Since I wrote How to Cook a Moose, which is a book about falling in love and moving to Maine, and which involves some seriously lavish eating, Brendan and I seem to have tempered (and sobered) our habits over the past few years. We don’t drink much wine these days, or eat much meat, and we don’t eat in restaurants very often anymore. We have a CSA share with a local farm, both summer and winter. We try to eat cheaply and as close to the ground as possible, and our budget and waistlines are both better off. These days, a decadent summer feast for a special occasion might be a caprese salad of ripe tomatoes, basil, and burrata from the local Hannaford; ears of sweet corn char-grilled and slathered with chili-lime mayonnaise; and a watermelon salad with mint, feta, and black pepper. And a glass each of a Portuguese white wine we buy six at a time for 10% off. Now I’m half-contemplating another food book, this one about how to eat well without spending all your disposable income, which is how I was raised in Arizona in the 1970s, so that would bring everything full circle.
YOUTH NONFICTION WINNER
How did you motivate yourself to keep writing—even when it’s difficult and you have to revise your work?
Revision, for me, is one of the most difficult and frustrating parts of the writing process, and I often find myself becoming impatient when it is too time-consuming and beginning to lose confidence with my original work. However, over the years I’ve started to discover that a willingness to revise often actually saves time in the end, as it allows for the virtual brain-dump of what my dad likes to call “crummy first drafts” with the promise of careful editing sometime later, when I’ve recorded my ideas and constructed the basic foundation of a piece. As an incentive, I often tend to save every draft of a piece so, when I finally reach the last one, the entire developmental process can be laid out before me, serving as a reminder of just how rewarding and transformative revision can be. I also have a great editor (a.k.a. my wonderful mom) who is always willing to provide her input on my work and encourage me to go back and revise even when I think I’m finished.
Which do you like better: researching the content for your pieces, or writing about what you’ve learned?
Although I am always excited to learn new things and develop new perspectives on old ideas, the part I enjoy most in the writing process is not the research; instead, it is the times when I get to gather the new information I’ve gained from all sorts of places and incorporate it into a cohesive whole. With my piece “Wake,” for example, I loved being able to take a subject I already knew a lot about – thanks to my slightly loon-obsessed big brother, who could (and often does) spout obscure facts about the elusive birds for hours – and incorporate old knowledge with new into a story that taught even me more about the beautiful creatures I’ve known all my life.
What are you doing during summer vacation this year?
I actually just returned from a life-changing and borderline magical experience at my mom’s old music camp, NEMC. It’s up in Sidney, Maine, on the shores of Lake Messalonskee, and we spent our days playing the Barber of Seville and the 1812 Overture (complete with cannons) in the outdoor amphitheater we called the “Bowl,” singing Dar Williams songs by the campfire in the pines as the sun set over the lake, and listening to snatches of trilling flutes and ringing trumpets and impossibly fast-fingered pianists drifting from the practice cabins through the trees as we walked to rehearsals. Since I’m off to college at Williams next year, for the first time in a long time I don’t have any summer homework, and I’m planning to spend my free time after NEMC relaxing with my family at our summer camp on Toddy Pond that provided the inspiration for “Wake” and countless other stories I’ve written over the years. Most evenings will find me swinging in the hammock on the screen porch with my trusty notebook at hand, watching the sun set over the lake and keeping an eye on our beloved loons.
A Gateless Garden by Liza Bakewell (Editor)
Who is the most profound female writer of all time?
Two profound female writers who affected my life early on might be 20th c. Grace Paley and 17th c. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Both were formidable women and fierce writers. More recently in life, I have found that among my fellow Mainers, I could count easily fifty. Two of these women, whose writings have set me going in a certain direction, are Edna St. Vincent Millay and Rachel Carson. In the writings of all four, the pen proved mightier than the sword.
Where do you like to write? Do you listen to music, drink tea, pull the window shades?
I like to write in coffee shops, where there is activity, noise, music, few windows, tea, bagels and cappuccinos. I’m a creature of habit, so I tend to go back to the same cafe again and again, even the same table. Having said that, and not unlike other writers, I dream of having a cabin-of-one’s-own in the woods. But if I had one, I’d probably miss the café. Lately I’ve been writing at home, where I can stand up. But home is not an ideal place for me to write. The distractions are too personal. They know me by name.
When you were ten years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
A biologist. I did not have the term at my disposal, but I loved flora and fauna and spent hours in the woods spying on them. It was the road not taken, for even in college I considered majoring in biology. To my left, on my writing desk at home, is a high-powered microscope. One of my favorite activities in life is to show my children and friends the complexities of minutia, butterfly wings (1000x) are my favorite.
SPECULATIVE FICTION WINNER
The Realm of Misplaced Hearts by Rick Hobbs
You’ve spent most of your life practicing physics and medicine. Have you always considered yourself a writer as well? What made you decide to write a speculative fiction novel?
I’ve always enjoyed reading fiction of all sorts, including good SF. I didn’t start writing fiction, however, until the late 1980s. Most of what I’ve written is stuck in a drawer somewhere. I can’t tell you exactly what goosed me into writing but I do love getting to know the characters and discovering how they are going to deal with their particular, quirky situations. The bulk of my writing through the years has been non-fiction, primarily scientific articles pertaining to medicine. I’ve done a lot of that, as well as, in recent years, some editing in scientific journals. When writing fiction, the topics I choose draw from my “real life” interests and the areas in which I am most familiar. When you draw a circle around all that, it fits well in the larger circle of “speculative”, I suppose. My intention, as I develop a plot is to start with ideas that are not necessarily familiar but grounded in reality. Then I allow the characters to inch over to the edge of the abyss, beyond which you need wings to fly, hopefully, in the process, taking the reader along with them. It is my way of maintaining plausibility during the transition into the speculative zone.
On your website, you mention a consideration of the “whole person,” and exploring the relationship between the individual and a higher spiritual source of power. How do you think your own spiritual world view shines through in Entangled Realms?
The question about how my personal view of spirituality is reflected in my fiction is very interesting. Inexplicably, I have always had the sense that the human spirit has the capacity to transcend the physical world, that our spirit is the part of us that exists outside of time and place. As such, I believe that we are connected via our spirit to Nature, to God, to the Dao, the Universe, however you think of that. Also, we are connected to the “cosmic net” so to speak. That is, our spirit is enjoined with all other spirits, an endlessly, interconnected web. This is particularly evident in loving relationships which are spiritual by their very nature. Some while ago, I became interested in meditation, its health benefits, changes in the brain which occur in adept meditators, etc. Thus, it is no accident that Rachel in Entangled Realms and Fiona in Misplaced Hearts both are adept meditators and both receive profound insights in their meditational forays into the Formless Realm (known in Tibetan Cosmology as Arupa-loka). It is also no accident that their are those in the spiritual realm who are looking out for them. I could go on-and-on but hopefully this gives some idea.
What is the greatest song ever played on the fiddle? Can you play it?
Maybe the toughest question. I love fiddle music, period, and I do play a lot of Celtic fiddle tunes. In terms of modern compositions, my favorite is probably The Lovers’ Waltz by Jay Ungar and Molly Mason. Natalie McMaster in Cape Breton also writes some beautiful tunes. That said, “fiddle” is just an affectionate name for violin. I do play a lot of classical violin pieces. Hard to pick a favorite, but I love Meditation from Thais by Jules Massenet.
CHILDREN’S LITERATURE WINNER
The Lemonade Hurricane by Licia Morelli
How did you first decide to translate your interests in meditation and healing into an experience for children?
When I first started practicing meditation in 2001, I always wondered why there wasn’t a lot of materials for children to learn these skills as well. There weren’t very many books geared towards children at the time and it was a concept that stuck with me throughout the years. When I had children of my own, I wanted to create a story that showed mindfulness and meditation, a story that would instruct without being didactic. I wanted to create a something that kids could relate to and then learn from as the secondary aspect of the book.
As mindfulness and meditation became more popular in schools I realized that the time was right to bring the story to life and out of that came The Lemonade Hurricane. With mindfulness becoming more mainstream, I knew that this story could really work for kids and adults alike.
What is the hardest thing about writing in language that children will understand and love?
The hardest thing about writing in language that children will understand and love is remembering to keep it simple! I’m always guilty of over complicating things so when I’m writing children’s books I have a post-it note on my computer reminding me to “keep it simple”. When it’s time to edit and look at a first draft I usually have to cut it by 20% and that’s hard! As children’s book writers, we have to tell stories in only about 600 or so words so that means we have to have a book with “more story, less text”. Word economy in simple form is pretty tricky sometimes!
When you meditate, what is the hardest thing to clear away from lingering at the back of your mind?
My to-do list! No matter how “Zen” I might be feeling my to-do list will always find me in my meditation practice. It pops in at random times, reminding me of what needs doing and I always have to “let it go” but it lingers nonetheless.
CRIME FICTION WINNER
An Unbeaten Man by Brendan Rielly
Much of An Unbeaten Man takes place at the “deceptively tranquil campus” of your alma mater, Bowdoin College. How much of the novel was inspired by your years living in Brunswick?
Much of the novel was inspired by my years at Bowdoin but also by my son’s years. He’s about to begin his junior year at Bowdoin. Michael initially feels out of place at Bowdoin because of his tremendously difficult childhood and his discomfort around “rich kids,” but he finds a home and what passes for peace for him. I had a wonderful childhood but Bowdoin was the first time I met rich kids and that was certainly an adjustment. I also found a home at Bowdoin and loved my time there. I studied Russian and international politics, both of which play major roles in my novels. The priest who appears in An Unbeaten Man and returns in book #2 (just completed) is named for my priest while I was at Bowdoin and who has since passed away.
Who was the first person to read the first draft of An Unbeaten Man?
My parents were the first readers. My father is an accomplished writer and a longtime professor who is not only a great line editor, but conceptually as well. He has done his best over the years to remind me of the difference between “lie” and “lay,” but, sadly, that’s a lesson that has never stuck.
What is the perfect murder?
As a lawyer, I must caution myself not to answer this question.
SHORT WORKS FICTION WINNER
“Blue of the World” by Douglas W. Milliken
Do you have a catch phrase? Or a word or exclamation you find yourself saying or writing constantly?
No catchphrase, though I try to keep in mind the examples set by other artists and writers who I admire. My desktop background (for five years, on three different computers) has been Jason Lazarus’s “Try Harder.” Its simplicity is shockingly effective. The end lines from W. S. Merwin’s “Berryman” also offer a frequent realignment:
I asked how can you ever be sure
that what you write is really
any good at all and he said you can’t
you can’t you can never be sure
you die without knowing
whether anything you wrote was any good
if you have to be sure don’t write
And too, my sister, Shonna Milliken-Humphrey, pretty neatly strikes the nail on the head with: “Inspiration is for amateurs.” Like, don’t wait around for your muse. Do the work. Then do it better.
What is the biggest difference in process between writing novels and writing short fiction?
Beyond the obvious differences—more or less time, research, etc.—my process doesn’t change significantly between longer and shorter projects. It’s my internal atmospheres that most determine whether I’m working on a novel or a story. Having been a chronic depressive since I was a kid, I’m pretty much always game for a healthy dose of escapism. Writing short stories is usually enough to abate the day-to-day baseline depression, but when my dysthymia aches most acutely, my willingness to dissolve into someone else’s reality reaches a desperate peak. And that’s when novel-writing happens. In this way, short stories act as aspirin while novels are radical surgery.
At what point in writing a piece do you decide on the title? Do you usually change it multiple times, or does it serve as the core of the story?
I don’t always get the title right on the first try, and almost never start off with one in mind. So much of my writing practice is based on discovery, of starting off with very little information and seeing what paths unfold. I seriously don’t want the arrogant brute of my conscious thoughts and tastes to dictate what a piece becomes. There’s more surprise and discomfort in letting my writhing, burping lizard brain call the compositional shots. So it’s during the editing process when I usually find the title embedded in or emergent from the text. Which feels true to form: starting from zero, I grow increasingly familiar and intimate with the story until finally, I uncover its name.