“There’s a story in everything”: An Interview With Guest Reader Hillary Leftwich

by Shasta Grant See all Guest Readers
story art

What themes do you frequently find yourself writing about? As a reader, are you drawn to these same themes?

I find myself frequently writing about death, deer, birds, water, murder, ghosts, magic, aftermaths, society’s forgotten, and heartbreak (in any form).

As a reader I’m drawn to ugly realities. I don’t want to read insane fantasies or what someone wants readers to believe is their reality. The usual diary of a mad person *eye roll*. I think of writers like Venita Blackburn, Renee Gladman, Carol Guess, Khadijah Queen, Erika T. Wurth, Natanya Pulley, Richard Froude, Bud Smith, Steven Dunn. These are writers who know the ugly realities and know how to tell them without the fake sugar coating that I sometimes see in writing.

What kind of story would you love to find in your queue this week?

I would love to find something that pushes the veil between a Schomburg-like surrealism with the horror of a predictable reality. I’m also a sucker for language sounds.

You’ve had a number of interesting jobs — private investigator, maid, repo agent, and pinup model — can you tell us more about your experiences with these jobs and how they inform your writing?

When I was still cleaning houses as a maid, I was referred to read Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women. Lucia Berlin made me realize there is writing potential in everything we do, even for me, pushing mops and scraping off burnt cheese from the inside of microwave ovens. There’s a lot of writers that have and never will hold any type of an academic position in teaching or a field related to writing. I’ve scrubbed rich peoples’ toilets. The rich are crazy. Money brings out weird little obsessions in people. I’ve changed sheets on pay-by-hour motels where dozens of sex toys and used condoms were a typical finding. There’s something about cheap motel rooms that brings out people’s repressed fantasies. I watched a car drive into a water fountain during a photo shoot I was on because the driver was distracted. Had someone urinate on a repossession driver because she didn’t want him taking her car. I’ve worked on horrific murder cases. Studied crime scene photos I can never forget. Watched a man light himself on fire across the street from my work during my smoke break. A line of elementary school children happened to be walking by on their way back from a tour of The Mint and witnessed the whole scene. There’s a story in everything, and not necessarily where you think it’s going to be. We need to be exposing ourselves to the uncomfortable realities if we’re going to write about them. No one likes a poser.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

Write your truth. And if people hate you, or are jealous of you, or disagree, or mock you for it, then you know you’re writing the good shit. Never, ever cater to an audience. And never, ever be afraid to write something because you’re worried how the world is going to receive it. The writing world can feel like junior high. But we have to find our own voice and our own style and learn to trust our guts.

About the Reader:

Hillary Leftwich lives in Denver with her son in “The Murder House,” a registered historical landmark turned affordable housing. There may or may not be ghosts. She earned her MFA in fiction and poetry at the Mile High MFA program at Regis University. She is an editor at Heavy Feather Review and curates At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, The Review Review, Smokelong Quarterly, Matter Press, Hobart, WhiskeyPaper, NANO Fiction, Monkeybicycle, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, Sundog Lit, Heavy Feather Review, Literary Orphans, Occulum, and others. Her first book, Ghosts are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock, is forthcoming from Civil Coping Mechanisms (CCM) in October of 2019. Find her at hillaryleftwich.com or on Twitter @hillaryleftwich.

About the Interviewer:

Shasta Grant is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She was the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellow and she won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, matchbook, MonkeyBicyclewigleaf, and elsewhere.