You write beautifully about Christian icons and imagery. Has your personal religious experience affected your fiction? If so, in which ways?
Allison, thank you! The answer is yes. I grew up immersed in Catholicism, and have spent much of my life figuring out a way to negotiate the sense of serenity that I’ve experienced as a result of that influence with the troublesome aspects of organized religion.
I went through an intense period of curiosity about religion in my early teens, and the saints were like superheroes to me. The things I wrote in “San Miguel” about St. Michael the Archangel really do reflect my feelings for him. He is my boo boo, my best guy, and I say that prayer a lot to help me feel safe and okay.
I’m originally from Louisiana, a place where it’s not considered unusual to call upon a saint or the Virgin Mary to help with a problem, so it made total sense to me that a character who was suffering with addiction would pray for divine assistance. I don’t consider myself religious now, but spirituality remains one of my main preoccupations in writing and in life.
I’ve found that reading influences my writing so much, and I’m always looking for book recommendations. What are you currently reading? How does your reading influence your writing? What books and/or writers would you recommend to our readers?
The influence of other authors on my writing has been enormous, lifelong, and something for which I am immensely grateful. Michelle Tea’s memoirs and her remarkable hybrid novel Black Wave have given me so much insight and inspiration—I remember reading Valencia for the first time, and becoming totally energized by her honest and naturalistic style. I was like, “YOU CAN DO THIS?!” I gave myself permission to take myself seriously as a writer after reading her work. The writing of Lidia Yuknavitch, Eileen Myles, and Chloe Caldwell has affected me similarly.
Right now, I’m reading for comfort. I just finished Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny, and I re-read The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. I’m into books about the nuances of relationships and the way that people get themselves into trouble (serious and not so serious) in the name of connection, passion, and the desire to be seen. These novels, wildly different in theme, feature characters I enjoyed spending time with, mostly because of their self-awareness, vulnerability, and in the case of Heiny’s novel, humor.
Slow Lightning by Eduardo C. Corral is my favorite book of poetry, ever, and I keep copies all over so that I can read “Watermark” whenever I want. I get so excited when I see a new poem by Kaveh Akbar. His Portrait of the Alcoholic really gave me something to cry about.
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides and the exquisite Mariette in Ecstasy by Ron Hansen are novels that I turn to again and again for their power to unsettle and fascinate me, and each handles religion and spirituality in a way that startles me anew every time I read them.
Why this story? Why now?
I’ve wanted to write about St. Michael for a long time, but I wasn’t sure exactly how until last fall, when I was finishing up my MFA. My thesis was a collection of short stories, a project that had taken up most of my time and creative energy for the entire four years of graduate school. When that was done, I moved on to some story ideas that were sort of lying dormant, like this one, plus some others that didn’t fit into the collection, or half-started work that I’d temporarily abandoned. When I had more time, I started to feel an urge to finish them, and the writing felt so lively.
What’s your next writing project?
Those abandoned stories! Returning to them, I noticed that they are thematically connected, and deal with queer identity, spirituality, addiction, and the 1990s. I suppose I’m three quarters done with a collection at this point? Something like that. It’s saved in a folder called I Hear You Call My Name, so I guess that will be the title if it ever sees the light of day (fingers crossed).