I remember my first meeting with Angela Carter, with whom I became great friends later. We all went to hear Stevie Smith reading her poetry—lots of writers around her, rather like a bullring—and she stood in the middle and read. On the way out this very disagreeable woman stomped up to me, and she said, my name’s Angela Carter. I recognized you and I wanted to stop and tell you that the sort of thing you’re doing is no good at all, no good at all. There’s nothing in it—that’s not where literature is going. That sort of thing. And off she stomped. Then about five years ago she said that she had realized that she was a writer because of fairy tales, because she was hooked on narrative as a child, not by realist novels about social behavior or how to be a good girl, but by these very primitive stories that go I think a lot deeper. It wasn’t until she said it that I felt empowered, which is why I have to acknowledge that she said it. As a little girl, I didn’t like stories about little girls. I liked stories about dragons and beasts and princes and princesses and fear and terror and the four musketeers and almost anything other than nice little girls making moral decisions about whether to tell the teacher about what the other little girls did or did not do.

A.S Byatt, The Paris Review

Perhaps the most profound relationship between walking, thinking, and writing reveals itself at the end of a stroll, back at the desk. There, it becomes apparent that writing and walking are extremely similar feats, equal parts physical and mental. When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps. Likewise, writing forces the brain to review its own landscape, plot a course through that mental terrain, and transcribe the resulting trail of thoughts by guiding the hands. Walking organizes the world around us; writing organizes our thoughts. Ultimately, maps like the one that Nabokov drew are recursive: they are maps of maps.

Ferris Jabr, newyorker.com

Writing Process Tour

My incredibly rad and talented friend and former colleague, Kelcey Parker, invited me to join the My Writing Process Blog Tour and I’m finally taking her up on the invite.  Not only are her responses to these questions smart and thoughtful, but her blog, ph.d. in creative writing, features interviews with tons of writers discussing how and why they write, and is worth spending some time with.  I’m passing the nominations on to three really wonderful writers: Chris Bower, Éireann Lorsung (who’s already done this but I’m nominating her anyway) and to Suzanne Scanlon.  Bios and links to their blogs follow my answers:

1) What are you working on?

Moving.  Setting up new utilities accounts.  Recovering from mold.  I’m working on waking up earlier and going for a run every day.  I’m trying to read more.  I’m trying to correspond more.  I want to write an essay about softness, and I’m making notes on that.  I’m finishing a short story collection, and I’m working on a new novella about cross-dressing nineteenth century sailors.  And a YA novel about ghosts.  And another novel that is about murderous sisters in a CS Lewis style fantasy world.  And some more stories.

2) How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I don’t think it does, that much.   Or maybe it does, a lot? I’m not consistent.  I use a lot of alliteration.  I love repetition in ways other people find annoying.

There are a number of writers  I feel a strong kinship to, in style and/or subject (Lucy Corin, Jenny Offill, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum) - I hope my work is in some ways like theirs; I’m interested in fragmented narratives, fairy tales and liminal spaces.

3) Why do you write what you do?

My first thought in response to this sort of ridiculous question is to say “because” and leave it like that.  And then, because other people I like and respect have come up with answers, I wonder why I am initially so dismissive, mean feeling, even, about answering this.  It’s too prying, maybe, too intimate.  Or perhaps I feel like, whatever answer I give will be somewhat false and certainly incomplete.  But here goes.

Everything I write is in some way a response: to another piece of literature, to an experience I’ve had, to a news story or a dinner party conversation.  The first short story I ever published was written when I heard a radio story about a man about my age in Chicago being killed a week after his wedding.  I couldn’t help but want to write about his widow; that story became a tiny sci-fi piece called “The Wormhole, A Romance.”

Recently, I’ve finally become invested in literary theory - I wasn’t an English Major, and went to an art school for my MFA, so I missed out on a lot of that, but it has led me to write quite a bit in response to historical narrative and to published literary works.  I write to examine and explore what I see as gaps in pre-existing narratives; places of confusion for me. At the same time, I’m not interested in “filling in blanks,” per se, but finding different openings, new empty spaces.

4) How does your writing process work?

I am a very inspiration based writer - I need an external spark to begin a story - often it is something I read, sometimes is an actual writing prompt (at least half my short stories come from Ray’s Tap Reading Series themes.)  Then I need a deadline.  Then, I lie in bed or sit in a very cosy chair and write tiny fragments of whatever I’m trying to do, gradually amassing them into larger and larger pieces.  Sometimes, when I’m stuck, I go for a run.  Sometimes, I watch internet TV or invent chores for myself.  I spend a lot of time sort of soft-focused staring into space, which you might call meditating, if you were being kind.

I also do a lot of research.  For my novella, Bell and Bargain, I spent a lot of time in historical archives, including the Chicago History Museum and the Historical Society of Butte, Montana.  The research I do sometimes doesn’t seem finished work, but it all becomes part of the word-building I do in my mind as part of writing.

I play around a lot with form.  Work can start out as tiny pieces and stay that way, of they can glom together into large blocks of text.  I play around with voice, with POV, with tense.  I constantly change and destabilize my work, shaking things up until they fall into place.


Here are my nominees!  They will post their responses in the near future (though Eireann was kind enough to have done hers in the past):

Suzanne Scanlon is the author of Promising Young Women (2012, Dorothy).  Her new book, Her 37th Year, an Index, is forthcoming from Noemi Press in 2015.  She lives and teaches in Chicago, where she also writes non-fiction about writing and teaching, and theater reviews for Time Out Chicago.  suzannescanlon.tumblr.com

Chris Bower's novella The Family Dog is forthcoming this November in the Rose Metal Press anthology My Very End of the Universe, and his illustrated short story collection Little Boy Needs Ride will be released by Curbside Splendor in 2015.   He’s also the curator of the Ray’s Tap Reading Series, in Chicago.  holdmyhorses.tumblr.com

Éireann Lorsung has published two books of poetry, Her Book (2013) and Music to Land Places By (2007), both from Milkweed Editions, and the chapbook Sweetbriar from Dancing Girl Press, and is working on a novel about the 2011 earthquake in Japan.  She lives outside of Ghent, Belgium, where she runs the micropress, MIEL.  She’s already answered these questions, here.  ohbara.com

My story in Issue 11 of Requited

It’s called "Nasha Eats the Maestro”. Also in check out Barbara Harroun’s story "Blood Proof".

My Novella-in-Flash comes out from Rose Metal Press this fall!

My novella-in-flash, Bell and Bargain, is being released as part of the anthology My Very End of the Universe the November from Rose Metal Press !  Very excited!image

I’m a writer and teacher of writing living in Durham, NC. My novella, Bell and Bargain is forthcoming from Rose Metal Press in November 2014. My short fiction has been featured in a number of journals - you can find links to most of it under “Writing”.

I have an MFA from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and have taught in Chicago, South Bend, IN and in Durham. I recently led workshops at the Iowa Summer Writers' Festival, upcoming My academic and literary interests are deeply rooted in ideas of retelling, iteration, liminality and authenticity. I also really love fairy tales and very short forms.

As well as teaching, I work as an writing coach and freelance writer. If you are interested in finding out more, email me at margaretpattonchapman at gmail.