Posted on 6 March 2014 | No responses
I still have quite a lot of catching up to do on this blog – specifically, I have multiple AWP recap posts in the hopper – but for now, I’d like to share some wisdom from Zadie Smith, who read in Toledo last night. My MFA cohort and I piled into a few cars and headed to the Stranahan Theater to hear Smith read her essay “Why Write,” which considers challenges today’s writers face. Here’s a slice of what she had to offer, both in her essay and in her Q&A:
On feeling stuck behind the times: To say you’re a writer in the 21st century is like saying “I like gaslights” or “I’m a town crier.”
On hard times: Is it really harder to write now than it used to be? The truth is, writers always felt neglected.
On writers vs. readers: At my readings, people come because I’m a writer and they are too. They identify as writers, not as readers.
On feeling “despair” when we write: “Despair” is a literary thing to say. To say, “When I sit in front of the computer, I feel a bit pointless,” is more realistic.
On managing the intimidating writing process: I write to simply make this sentence.
On balancing teaching, writing, mothering, reading, and more: Some weeks, none of it goes well for anybody.
On the virtues of flying: It’s hard to travel to be away from my kids, but I have that time on the plane to read.
On finding the time to write: I had to cut down on the online life. I can’t have it [the Internet] completely embedded in my life . . . It’s amazing how much time you waste online. Now that I only have 4-5 hours [to write], I can’t Google for two hours. I have to get to it faster.
On feeling confident in her own work: I don’t feel what I do is good. I don’t have that feeling. I often think it’s no good. That feeling doesn’t go away . . . I think it’s a lifelong thing.
On why it’s hard to feel that confidence: You always start over with a blank page. Clichés and idiocy and mistakes are always available to you.
On what made her become a writer: My mother had as many books in the house as possible. That’s the stuff you need if you’re going to be a writer. There’s no mystery to it.
On her children: I don’t want them to become writers.
On reading vs. writing: Reading is much more important [to me] than writing.
On what it means to be a writer: Writing lets you have the one thing that society offers in theory and obliterates in practice: self-determination. When I write . . . my self disperses. I can be everyone in fiction. Writing is a de-selfing activity.”
And last but not least:
On why we write: Why write? Because you desire to see things as they are.
For a more in-depth look at Smith’s reading, see “Zadie Smith Puts Value Back in Written Word.” And let it be known that while I was compiling this blog post, I set my stove top on fire (we’re talking a full-flame, smoke-alarm fire) because I was so engrossed in Smith’s words and didn’t realize I’d turned on the wrong burner. Everything’s okay now, but consider yourselves warned: words (and obliviousness) can start fires.
Posted on 22 February 2014 | 4 responses
So a few orders of business! First, I will be at AWP in Seattle this year, so if you’re going, speak up and let’s try to meet up. And whether you’ll be in attendance or not, you should really consider the special contest Mid-American Review is running…especially if you were a fan of My Little Pony in the 80s (or still are today). I present to you…
Mid-American Review‘s Magical My Little Pony Writing Contest
Writing is magic. At least it is at AWP 2014, when Mid-American Review will host a special contest for the best My Little Pony poem or piece of flash fiction!
The magical details: Write a poem or flash fiction piece (under 500 words) about the glories of My Little Pony. Take that theme as you wish and have fun with it. Next, stop by Booth V3 at the AWP 2014 bookfair by Friday, Feb. 28 by 3 p.m. to submit your My Little Pony literary masterpiece. Legible handwritten entries will be accepted; electronic entries can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org with “My Little Pony Writing Contest” as the subject line. Be sure to include your name, phone number, and email address somewhere on your entry.
The glittery prize: Winners will be selected at the MAR booth in the AWP bookfair at 5 p.m. Friday, Feb. 28 and will receive a free, one-year subscription to Mid-American Review. All entries may be considered for publication on MAR’s new blog.
Let the magic begin.
♥ But wait, there’s more! Mid-American Review is also hosting a joint event and reading with Cincinnati Review and Ninth Letter at Unicorn Seattle (in the Narwhal room, that is) on Thursday, Feb. 26 from 6:30-8:30pm. Come join me and have a drink called the Hellicorn or Rainbow Brite or Unicorn in Pear Adise or, of course, a My Little Pony.
Posted on 17 February 2014 | 4 responses
The last thing I expected to do last Sunday was wrap stuff in twine and then shellac it, but sometimes, that’s how life goes.
I was in need of a new teapot for my little college hovel after my adorable but cheap glass one broke. As much as I needed a replacement to make my six to eight daily cups of tea, I also was reluctant to spend too much on a new teapot. Enter Cleveland’s fine thrift shop scene, where I manged to score the above teapot for a only a couple of bucks.
True, it’s not the most attractive teapot in the world. It needed a good scrubbing, and the handle was covered in dirty, falling-apart plastic, but I figured that could be fixed. This is where Peter’s genius comes in: he suggested I rewrap the handle with twine and then shellac it.
Done and done. Here’s how it went down:
Thanks to Peter and his twine-tastic idea, my writing sessions at Bowling Green are now tea-riffic. Sorry. Must be all the caffeine I’ve been drinking.
If you can’t get enough stories about my caffeine receptacles, last year’s Mugging for the Camera post is for you.
What are you making?
Posted on 5 February 2014 | 4 responses
Part of what made Bowling Green’s MFA program offer attractive to me was the chance to work on Mid-American Review, a journal I’ve long admired. This year, as I eased into the role of assistant fiction editor, I received a crash course in the inner workings of a literary magazine. I proofread pages, presented at our Winter Wheat festival, discussed stories with other editors, and read hundreds upon hundreds of submissions. Here’s a general look at what I’ve experienced so far as the assistant fiction editor:
We really do read everything. Like many writers, I’ve had my suspicions that certain journals don’t really read all their submissions – that they fill their magazine pages with solicited material and/or send huge chunks of submissions into the trash bin unread – but I’m happy to say this is definitely not the case at MAR. Not only do we read everything, but we approach each story in good faith, with good intentions, and with the hope that this one might be a “yes.”
The quality of writing is stronger than I expected. Over the years, I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about the draining and hopeless process of reviewing submissions. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced that. Not every story is for MAR, and not every story we receive feels ready yet, but the quality of the average submission is higher than I anticipated. Reading submissions is also a reminder of just how many people out there are writing and maintaining the hope that someone will say “yes.”
That infuriating “Sorry, this isn’t for me” line is true. I might recognize a story has many admirable qualities and is strong, but it either doesn’t float my boat or just wouldn’t fit with the aesthetic of the magazine. When I come across a story like this – one that’s strong but isn’t to my personal taste – I still forward it to staff members to see if anyone else feels differently.
We don’t always agree. Reading for MAR reminds me many times over how subjective this business is. Sometimes the differences are subtle – I might love with the voice of a piece while another reader is only vaguely interested – while other times it’s a dramatic difference in opinion. For example, I might be an emphatic “no” on a particular story that another editor is willing to fight for, or vice versa. To make it even more interesting, this same editor and I might generally have a similar aesthetic, so there’s no predicting how we will each react to an individual story.
A connection is by no means a golden ticket. Very rarely, someone on staff might personally know one of the writers we’re discussing, or perhaps stories from past MAR contributors or other writers with some sort of “connection” enter our reading pile. Believe it or not, these relationships don’t make the journey to publication in MAR easier. Not even close. We discuss everything based on its own merits and how it might fit in with our publication.
Cover letters don’t matter much. I view cover letters as unnecessary but sometimes helpful tools that might satisfy my curiosity about a writer. A long list of impressive credentials is all fine and good, but it doesn’t mean I’ll love the story that writer submitted. On the flip side, if a writer has no previous publications, I’ll hold out hope that this story could be her first winner. And if a writer leaves the cover letter section blank in our online Submissions Manager, I couldn’t care less. It’s the story that counts.
I don’t like sending rejections. I’ve received enough rejections in my writing career to cringe at the thought of a writer opening an email from me that includes a rejection. It’s not fun, and I don’t think any literary editor enjoys it. But it’s part of the job.
We’re doing our best. I know what it’s like to be stuck waiting eight months or longer for a response from a journal, but now, I also know what it’s like to face thousands and thousands of pending submission in the Submissions Manager. We don’t like to be behind, but because we actually read everything, get second or third or fourth opinions on work, and are open to free submissions year-round, it happens. Please be patient with us.
You’ve heard it before from other journals and editors, but it’s true: We really, really want to find stuff we love in the slush. It’s such a treat to stumble across a compelling story or strong voice while reading submissions.
Actually, we don’t use the word “slush.” Slush is the word I use to mentally refer to the huge pile of submissions sent through our Submission Manager because that’s what I’m used to. In reality, however, I haven’t heard that term thrown around by other readers at MAR. We view our submissions as simply that: submissions sent by hardworking writers.
Where are you submitting?
Posted on 29 January 2014 | 13 responses
Last week, as part of an assignment for workshop here in the MFA program, I recorded one of my writing sessions. That means I used my phone to record myself giving a voiceover of my writing process, including complaints about my hunger and the cold and my reluctance to actually, you know, write.
Here are a few actual excerpts from this recording. Allow me to preface this by saying that while this makes me look really, really lazy, I actually accomplished something during this session. Regardless, read at your own risk:
- I’m talking a lot right now because I don’t want to actually write. Because it’s hard. And because it’s also really weird talking to myself.
- I am not saying what the title is and I’m not describing the premise because I fear if I say it out loud, even if no one’s going to listen to this, it will sound so incredibly stupid that it will discourage me from continuing.
- Why is this so hard? And I really want to eat these crackers so I’m setting them aside. Okay. I want more coffee too. Basically I want to do anything but write. Because when you start to write, that’s when the failure begins.
- It would just be so easy to never do anything.
- Now I’m going to try to change points of view. After one more quick game of spider solitaire.
- I’m just staring at the cats now, in case anyone’s wondering.
- I don’t know why writing is so damn hard. Seriously, what’s the deal with that?
- My ear just started ringing. Better stop writing! Just kidding.
- To my cat, Saucy: Do you want to write my story for me?
- So much of writing is pushing away my mental blocks. I’m looking at this and already thinking someone in workshop is going to say, “You don’t need this first part, just get to the next section.” I already know this, but I need to write it anyway.
- (Quiet mumbling) Shitty first drafts, shitty first drafts.
Shitty first drafts, indeed. That 75-minute writing session, which I came to hungry and tired and obviously predisposed to whining, resulted in a new story opening. So at least there’s that.
What are you saying to yourself as you write?
Posted on 11 January 2014 | 2 responses
“Lying awake at night or sitting in my study, I know that after I have labored and polished and reworked and questioned and discarded and redone and rethought and repolished long enough, there will come that sweet, eventual, certain yes.”
Last year at this time, I was taking a break from my novel-in-progress after sprinting to a word count goal during the first draft. I finished the full first draft in May, then took some time off to let the novel rest and to give myself some distance. Ultimately, I gave myself a lot more distance than I planned.
Throughout last semester, as I drove between Bowling Green and Cleveland, I’d pack up the manuscript with the good intentions of finally diving in and making revision notes. But time and time again, I left the manuscript unopened. Instead of reading my novel, I was immersed in my first semester of the graduate program and all that entailed: learning how to teach, reading Mid-American Review submissions, grading scores of student essays, crafting feedback for my cohort’s stories, writing my own stories, and slowly developing an idea for what will become my thesis. Somehow, the novel that I wrote last year and that I still feel so strongly about didn’t become a factor.
Until now. Over winter break, I finally read the entire manuscript. What I see on those typewritten pages is a lot of promise, a lot of good stuff, and yes, a whole hell of a lot of work ahead of me.
Considering that I’ve only just begun considering revisions, posting that quote from Cary Tennis’s essay above seems wildly optimistic. But no matter. Without the occasional burst of optimism, how could writers go on? I have to remind myself that not only did this manuscript win me a full scholarship to Tin House and a finalist designation for the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grant, but its strengths represent how far I’ve come as a writer. Its weaknesses, meanwhile, show how far I still have to go; that I believe I can get there is good enough for now.
What are you distancing yourself from?
Posted on 20 December 2013 | 2 responses
Now that my first semester at Bowling Green is behind me, the first snows have fallen, and the Christmas cookies are in the oven, I finally have a moment to reflect on my year of reading and share some of my favorite reads from 2013. This list doesn’t represent books that were published in 2013, necessarily, since I have a very backlogged reading list (who doesn’t?) and tend to be at least three years behind the times, but here goes — in no particular order, some of the books I most enjoyed this year:
Unclean Jobs for Women and Girls by Alissa Nutting. If anything, this reading list proves I’m an Alissa Nutting fan who came to the party about three years late. This is a wonderfully weird book that I could not put down; in fact, I read it in one day only to be disappointed I could no longer return to it anew. By “wonderfully weird,” we’re talking a woman getting cooked into a soup; an intergalactic delivery service; a supremely drugged-out bandleader’s girlfriend; a cantankerous cat who collapses into bed with his sexually frustrated owner to share a pizza with her; a woman who develops a sexual attraction for her garden gnome; a woman who goes to Hell and embarks on an affair with the devil; and more. What a weird little freak show of fabulousness.
Tenth of December by George Saunders. I know, I know, this collection doesn’t exactly need more praise from my corner, but this truly was one of my favorite reads this year. And hey, it was actually published in 2013! See my posts about the Saunders reading/Q&A I attended here and here.
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales. Again, put this one in the “three years late to the party” category, but in any case, I’ve been on a fairy tale kick lately, and I can’t resist retellings of stories likes Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, and many other fairy tales I wasn’t familiar with before reading this anthology. With stories from authors like Aimee Bender, Neil Gaimon, Jim Shepard, Joyce Carol Oates, Kevin Brockmeier and many more, there’s something here for everyone.
Goldengrove by Francine Prose. I read this novel, about a grieving 13-year-old girl who starts hanging out with her dead sister’s boyfriend, last February, and it has stayed with me since. Beautiful writing and a moving story.
Glaciers by Alexis Smith. I mentioned Glaciers here on the blog over the summer, but a recent rereading confirmed it’s just as powerful the second time around. Glaciers surrounds a young woman named Isabel who lives in Portland, Oregon, and has an affinity for everything old. From her vintage clothing to the books she repairs as part of her work in a library’s preservation and conservation department, Isabel surrounds herself with objects that have a history. This novel is about mortality, but more than a single character’s mortality – it captures the grand essence of time, of the history of not just people but things, our connection to those things, and the stories we all leave behind.
Tampa by Alissa Nutting. While this book actually was released in 2013, I still read it too late — almost immediately after I gave my “You’re Creeping Me Out: Letting Your Narrator’s Dark Side Shine” workshop at Winter Wheat. Let me tell you, Celeste Price would have been an absolute perfect example for that workshop. She’s an insatiable sexual sociopath who lusts after fourteen-year-old boys. The book was immediately dubbed “controversial,” and some readers were turned off by Celeste’s hyperbolic behavior, but really, isn’t that the fun of a crazy book (and character) like this? Here are a few of Nutting’s thoughts on the character, taken from an interview with Cosmopolitan (let the record show this is the first time my blog has referenced a Cosmo article, though who’s to say it will be the last?):
“With Celeste’s character, I’m poking fun at this male ideal. The ideal being this drop dead gorgeous woman who wants to do nothing but have sex. And so, here she is! She’s obsessed with sex—only not with adult men. … What I wanted to show with Celeste was how people were willing to ignore and overlook and forgive based on her looks alone. How even when there was mounting evidence that she was doing something very wrong, because of how she looked, no one wanted to address it. Particularly, the men who were engaged in romantic relationships with her—she is a trophy to her husband; she is a trophy to the other adult males she gets involved with. They have this valuable form of currency that is telling the world that I am a successful man, and they don’t want to confront any reality where they would have to give that up.”
Fascinating stuff. And yes, I admit to watching this bewildering interview with Debra Lafave, the real-life teacher who was Nutting’s (very general/loose) inspiration for this type of story, after finishing the novel.
Blueprints for Building Better Girls by Elissa Schappell. I think this story collection was originally published in 2011, so I’m only a couple years late this time. I bought Blueprints at Powell’s immediately after the Tin House Writers’ Conference this summer, and then I took it home and read it in one day. It’s a linked collection that tackles issues relating to young women in particular, and I think one of the book’s epigraphs — “I will not become what I mean to you” (Barbara Kruger) nicely sums up what this book is really about. And here’s a glimpse of an interview with Schappell about the collection: “The themes and structure of this book can be read as an etiquette book, or anti-etiquette book. However unlike those books, these stories aren’t driven by a question—How should one behave when meeting one’s husband’s boss? What is the proper way to speak to a new acquaintance?—which is then answered. They’re driven by a character who is dealing with an issue that polite society deems inappropriate to discuss—rape, teenage sex, drug addiction, miscarriage—but which is a universal experience. There are no simple answers.”
Be sure to stay tuned to this blog in the year 2016, which is when I’ll apparently get around to reading all the books on my to-read list that were published in 2013.
Posted on 8 December 2013 | 2 responses
Strange and lovely. The new issue of Mid-American Review (Volume XXXIV, Number 1) is now out in the world. We’ve got a lot of good stuff in this issue, including stories about attempted tiger dissection, dresses the color of robin eggs, and Sasquatch costumes, plus two essays (“The Red Essay” and “A Blow to the Head for St. Louis Barbecue”) that are incredibly inventive and beautiful and strange. And hey, if you’re a subscriber and got this issue in the mail, there’s a 50% chance I was the one to seal your envelope. The life of a literary magazine editor is a glamorous one indeed.
‘Tis the season for literary hope. I know it’s easy to get discouraged about sending work out to literary magazines, and sometimes it feels like these journals don’t actually publish anything they find in the slush. If that describes you, let me share a few bright spots: First, the Mid-American Review definitely reads all submissions, and the general submission pile is where we find just about all the work we publish. Next, while I can’t reveal any details yet, a magazine I’ve very much admired for years (and one I consider big-time) may very well publish one of my pieces — and yes, it’s something that came to them through the general slush. Finally, Michael Alexander Chaney put together a list of “top lit mags that REALLY do publish emerging writers,” which includes some excellent publications. So have heart and send out your work!
Merry Christmas, here’s some booze. Hey, look – The Millions put together a gift-idea list for writers that actually isn’t awful. What literary-minded friend wouldn’t want a bathrobe, booze, coffee, bookends, or a handwritten letter? For anyone out there keeping count, I’m particularly partial to #4, #7, #8, #11, #14, #16, and #17.
Effortless writing, guaranteed! Last week, I noticed some guys in high-vis vests walking around my Cleveland neighborhood. Were they selling something? Conducting some sort of utility work? Nope — they were distributing free pens in a bizarre, door-to-door pen promotion (see below). In any case, the pen was attached to a flyer that promised the user will “experience effortless writing.” If only, pen. If only.
Posted on 26 November 2013 | 3 responses
Last Friday evening, I gave a reading with the poet Dan Rzicznek at the Happy Badger in Bowling Green. The Happy Badger is a cozy place filled with Christmas lights and delicious things things like pumpkin soup and maple lattes, so it was clearly the perfect place for a reading. Plus, we had door prizes (from Big Fun in Cleveland), which is something I definitely recommend for any literary event. Give me one reason why you wouldn’t gift your audience members with stick-on mustaches.
I read my story “Wedding Season,” which was published by Flyway a few years ago, and “To Elizabeth Bishop, with Love” from Living Arrangements. Dan read an assortment of amazing poems, including a range from his chapbook Vine River Hermitage. But one of the best parts of the night was simply enjoying some food, drinks, and conversation with my MFA buddies and our very own Sherry who made it out for the reading! (Sadly, I failed to think of getting a photo of the two of us together.)
Here are the first few lines of Dan’s poem “Vine River I.” You can read it in its entirety here, but I wanted to share at least a taste:
He holds the map up to the mountainside,
a thing in the sky turning to earth.
To be a map of a face without lines,
to be a turning thing in the sky.
A line on the map means hunger—
a room filled with mounted deer and birds.
All in all, it was a lovely night, with plenty of people from the BGSU community coming out to hear some fiction and poetry. And for that, I’m grateful.
Posted on 21 November 2013 | 4 responses
Today, I’m happy to share some international flavor on the blog through a Q&A with the author Catherine McNamara. Read on to learn her thoughts about walking the line between guerrilla book hustler and glittery author, having more to say but using less to say it, attempts to enter the market sideways, why you need to listen to your own voice, the challenges short story writers face, adventures in genre hopping, and more.
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney and has lived in France, Italy, Belgium, Somalia, and Ghana. Pelt and Other Stories, a semi-finalist for the Hudson Prize, was published in September 2013. Her stories have been published in Wasafiri, Short Fiction, Wild Cards: A Virago Anthology, A Tale of Three Cities, Tears in the Fence, The View from Here, Pretext, and Ether Books. Her erotic comedy The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy was published in April 2012. She lives in Italy.
Catherine’s collection, Pelt and Other Stories, was published in September with the small British press Indigo Dreams Publishing. (For a taste of the collection, read “Nathalie” online.) Catherine is currently doing an extended blog tour and sharing her stories through readings and literary festivals in England and Italy.
I interviewed Catherine to learn more about her writing and publishing experiences. Let’s see what she has to say:
1. Pelt is your first published short story collection, and it follows your erotic comedy, The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy. How would you compare the experience of publishing your first book to this collection? Did you learn any lessons during the publication process for The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy that you made use of for Pelt?
When The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy came out I thought the world would adore my book, that reviews would be scattered across global newspapers, that copies would leap off bookshop tables and that I would sell gazillions of copies. Alas – it has been a lot of hard work. No newspaper reviews though many encouraging online ones; copies not always available in big bookshops and most sales through orders; sales have been good but I won’t be buying the Maserati. In fact most of the time I’ve felt like Catherine McNamara’s secretary.
When Pelt and Other Stories came out I was a lot more savvy and relaxed. My expectations were more realistic, I wasn’t half as fragile – even though the material means so much more to me. I knew I would feel more like a guerrilla book hustler than a glittery author. And I just went with it. The second time around I was more confident with reading and talking in public (though I’m still on a learning curve), and I felt more authentic. I never felt at home with the romance-writing crowd because I knew DLC was too quirky and didn’t really fit into their models. Whereas with short story writers I feel completely at ease, as though we are speaking the same language.
But the DLC experience helped me learn how to put myself out there – write festival proposals, synthesise my work quickly and perhaps even consider myself a writer for the first time.
2. How long have you been writing short stories? Can you describe your process of writing the stories in this collection?
I’ve been writing and publishing stories for over twenty years, with lots of breaks for everything that must be done in between. I didn’t really have a very sophisticated approach in the writing of these stories. Normally I wait until I have an idea that really excites me – or even a shifting or event that I’d like to work towards – and I won’t write a thing until I know I have time ahead and a good first sentence in mind. Then nothing can drag me away from it. I never have a clue how it will end up. Or if I do, for sure it will change completely.
I think in the past I was a lot wordier and often wanted to bathe my reader in words and images. Now I think I have more to say, and try to use less to say it. I love shaping a story. I love reading The Paris Review interviews to see how other writers work. Most of all I like being on my own trying to nut it all out, particularly whether a story has legs to stand on.
3. How did Pelt come to be published? How did you settle on which stories to include and in what order? What was the editing process like?
It’s notoriously hard to have a collection accepted so my ‘tactic’ was to have as many stories published as possible, while I produced something more commercial – The Divorced Lady’s Companion to Living in Italy – and tried to enter the market sideways, if you like. As my publisher is a small press that publishes a lot of poetry, I knew I could interest them in a good short story collection if I worked hard with DLC and showed them I was a viable author. Pelt was semi-finalist in the Hudson Prize 2011 so that helped.
I tried to include the stories that bounced off each other and eliminated a few that didn’t seem to fit. Some of the stories are interlinked. However there is one strand that goes chronologically and there is another that goes backward. I went crazy trying to order them and lived with 18-20 bits of paper on my mat for weeks, trying to settle on a sequence. In the end I worked forward from ‘Pelt’ which I wanted to begin with, and then backward from ‘Volta’ which I wanted as my last piece. I also didn’t want to clump the African stories together, and had to separate male/female narrators and 1st/3rd person stories. I was a mess and very boring to speak to during that period.
Most of the stories had already been published so there was less editing to do than the novel, but we still worked for a long time. I despise editing.
4. In Pelt’s title story, you draw a strong line of tension between the narrator, who is pregnant with Rolfe’s baby, and Rolfe’s estranged wife. The narrator watches Rolfe take up with the wife again and recounts her growing turmoil through controlled, steady prose. What was your experience writing this story – how did you develop or settle on the narrator’s voice, what were your goals for the story, and when did you know how it would end?
I remember I had one rare morning sans enfants and the voice of the narrator came through very fast. I had no goals, just a voice, a setting and the character’s determination to retrieve her man. I remember I wanted to show up Western and African ways of ‘keeping’ a man, and I wanted humour (I was very puzzled when my first reader said there was no humour!). I don’t ever write to a plan and was on a train to Florence the week after with my notebook, when I had an idea for the hot oil scene and once I’d written that I knew it was finished. I remember sitting there very surprised with my pen and everyone in the carriage staring at me. (continued…) Read more