What are you working on?
I’m one of those writers who always has multiple projects going. I wish I could say it’s because I have SUPER AMBITION, but mostly it’s because I have trouble focusing on one thing at a time. I’m currently working on a novella (which I hope will be the final story in my collection Her Body and Other Parties) titled “The Resident.” I also just completed a (very rough) draft of a novel, tentatively titled Venus Would Freeze. And I have a couple of personal essays at various levels of completion–“Exposure” and “A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Purity.” And notes/scenes for a few more stories without titles. And some freelancing projects. And I’m writing a couple of college-level fiction-writing courses.
How does your work differ from others’ work in the same genre?
Such a loaded question! My societally-ingrained humility is currently murmuring nothing, nothing in my ear, but if that were really true, why would I bother writing? What would I have to offer?
I think that my work is a distinctive, unique blend of specific elements: formal constraint/structural conceit, eroticism, complex female and queer protagonists, social commentary, lyricism, surrealism/absurdism, modernism, post-modernism, magic. Basically, if there’s an element I crave in the fiction I read, I also try to incorporate it into my work.
Why do you write what you do?
I wish I could say that I woke up one morning with my fiction as it exists now inside of me, but that’s not true. When I first started writing stories, I was young. They were mostly imitations of what I’d been reading–a very specific sort of realist short stories. I like realism, and I even occasionally still write realist stories (though usually tinged with non-realist elements), but when I got to my MFA program I was lucky enough to have other writers around me who sensed what I was trying to do, and encouraged it. Read Kelly Link, they told me. Read George Saunders. Read Kij Johnson and Karen Russell and Kevin Brockmeier and Italo Calvino and Georges Perec and Jane Bowles and J.G. Ballard and on and on. It was like I’d run the length of a particular house hundreds of times, and then during one lap someone pushed open a door I didn’t even realize was there.
Since that moment–since I wrote a story in the spring of my first year, “Difficult at Parties”–I’ve come more and more fully into what I realize is my voice. It’s been a really incredible process. And now I can’t imagine writing any other way. I am eternally grateful to the other writers in my life–fellow students and teachers alike–who exposed me to those influences and ideas.
How does your writing process work?
I’m a freakishly fast writer. It’s not that everything I write comes out fast and flawless, but I do have a tendency to just sort of rip through a project. The challenge is then sitting on it long enough for edits, and making it the best version of itself. Probably the most extreme example of this is when I wrote my story “Inventory” at Clarion in three hours, workshopped it the next day, edited it that afternoon, put in Strange Horizon’s slush pile that evening, and had sold it three days later. Some stories of mine come out like that: more or less complete. Others–like “The Resident,” which I’m taking with me to Sycamore Hill because I’m totally stuck–I start, get to a certain point, and then I don’t know what happens next and I have to sort of freewheel until I figure it out. When it comes to those stories, I try to take the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” approach. This is also how I’m writing my novel, which is the first novel-length work I’ve written in my current writing phase.
I’m also sort of an idea machine. I was one of those kids who you’d find hunched over a mishmash of Barbies, dinosaurs, Fisher Price people, and block, muttering dialogue and sound effects under my breath. If I wasn’t reading 0r writing down stories on my father’s stationary, I was constructing a wild, soap-opera-esque narrative about my toys. (Even when I was probably too old to do so without looking weird.) As an adult, that manifests as a 23-page, single-spaced Word document with all of the ideas, titles, images, formal conceits, characters, and lines that just sort of pop up in my brain. People who know me well have seen me stop mid-sentence, my eyes widening a little, and whip out my notebook or phone to jot down an idea. I also get tons of ideas in the shower. I wrote half of “Especially Heinous: 272 Views of Law & Order SVU” in the shower. Whenever I felt stuck I got under the water and then, bam, there it was. That’s how the girls-with-bells-for-eyes were born. In any case, sometimes I look at my idea list and realize that things that I’ve come up with separately are actually parts of the same story. But unless I live to be a thousand years old I’ll probably never do everything on that list, which grows constantly.