It’s so very difficult to write about alcoholism and abuse without falling into clichés, but this is a story in which nothing feels unrealistic or artificial. I’m curious: how did you find your way into knowing the narrator and her family?
My collection, Bound by Blue, is infested with all kinds of so-called vices and mental illness, but I see these as the real person beneath personas, survival tactics that help make the deranged world an easier place to exist in. There are holes that need to be filled in by something. For the narrator it’s “pica” which is the genus name for magpies. The mother buys tiny vodka bottles instead of a fifth or a quart to keep from acknowledging her need for an anchor. And the crossword puzzles are another avenue to sprinkle the mind with necessity for action. The need to accomplish something; fill in the holes.
Alcoholism/abuse or abstinence/activities are intertwined in my mind. The absurd futility of overcoming or succumbing to something is inevitable.
I feel like a bit of a jerk for asking this question because I’m 95 percent certain this is something that you just do, rather than think about, when you write. But I want to know your secret: how do you preserve the dignity of your characters in spite of their strangeness or cruelty?
I very much appreciate this question, Sarah. I can’t imagine writing about anyone or anything when I don’t feel deep emotion for them, no matter who they are or what they have done. The harshest sentence is when we refuse to examine history, believe that we alone suffer acts of cruelty and don’t acknowledge the other spokes on the wheel. Everyone has a story. Pain is universal.
It makes sense that you never let the reader in on the narrator’s name but I’m curious: did you know her name when you began writing this piece? Did you discover her name at any point?
I’ve been working on a novel for a few years and, yes, have the character’s name. This story was a composite of a few separate chapters, although I am much happier with compression and condensing sentences and scenes. I’m absorbed by novels and memoirs that have chapters that are two pages or a paragraph long and hold me captive without modifiers or throw-away words.
You publish work pretty regularly, which leads me to believe you have the discipline part of writing down. I know more than a few writers who never tire of advice on how to find that sweet spot that allows you to consistently sit down and do the work. Can you offer any words of wisdom (or whatever word you’d like to use here)?
I’m not consistent in when or how long I write. I’ve had some beauteous periods of life when I was able to do that, but now I work when I can whether morning or night. And one deal that works for me is to have a specific deadline. I have a group of writers I’ve been meeting with for almost three years and that keeps me moving forward with something.