I’ve never been to Ohio, but I have to admit that when I imagine it, I imagine snow and chain-smokers and sad people staring out their windows at snow while chain-smoking. My boyfriend says Cincinnati is awesome, though, and he'd move there in a heartbeat. How long have you lived there? What’s it like?
Yeah, I don’t think that’s an entirely uncommon conception of Ohio. I moved to Cincinnati to begin an MA in fiction at the University of Cincinnati in 2007, never considering that I’d be around for more than a couple of years. I stayed on to get my PhD, and now I’ve been here for almost six. The first winter was an adjustment: One particularly cold morning I couldn’t get my car out from where it sat in eight inches of snow and ended up walking—literally—a mile uphill in the snow to teach my morning comp class. But I’ve grown to love it—I can ice skate now!—and Cincinnati is actually a pretty cool city. We even have food trucks!
I saw that you were from Gainesville originally, a place which couldn’t be more different from Ohio. Where do you tend to set your work? In Florida or Ohio?
I’ve set stories in a lot of different places, but Florida comes up often. There’s something about the crazy heat and the, um, interesting flora and fauna that’s fun to try to capture on the page. My first published story was inspired by an event that happened to friends of my parents: They were picnicking near Lake Alice in Gainesville when an alligator rose out of the water, plucked the fried chicken from their table, and disappeared again.
At first I used to write stories about people transplanted to the Midwest who wanted to be anywhere but there. Lately I’ve been writing stories about people who live in the Midwest and are basically okay with it. That probably says something about my state of mind.
It’s really hard to write a story that has anything to do with a woman wanting a baby, even if she is ambivalent. That’s one of the things that impressed me so much about “Baby Baby.” It felt new and fresh. Tell me a little about its genesis.
Thank you! “Baby Baby” started with an idea so odd that it felt plucked from the air: a woman who pretends to be pregnant by wearing one of those fake bellies meant to scare high school kids into abstinence. It made no sense. And yet the vision was too odd to let go.
I didn’t want the fake belly to be a symbol of my character’s desire to get pregnant; I wanted it to be representative of the sort of weird, devilish pleasures that people indulge in when they’re alone. And so the story began with just that idea: a character wearing a false pregnancy belly. As the story developed but I tried to push her into situations with increasingly higher stakes, until finally she wore the belly in front of someone she knows, which naturally brought on a storm of consequences.
One of the things I’m interested in when I write fiction is the notion of bad behavior stemming from some secret, inner well that maybe the character herself isn’t even fully tapped into—a person sabotaging herself and her relationships without fully knowing why, at least not when the story begins.
What are you working on now?
I’m in the beginning stages of a novel about a girl who returns from college to work at her family’s funeral home after the death of her parents. I’ve always been interested, in a peripheral sort of way, in medical and quasi medical procedures. So I’ve been reading a lot about carotid arteries and formaldehyde solutions and feature setting. Weirdly, I’m also pretty squeamish.
I write a lot about sad girls, addicts, motels, and bad relationships. What are your obsessions, or the things you return to again and again?
I love this question! I just finished putting together a story collection, and looking back at it from an editorial standpoint really gives me a different perspective on my own fiction. Pregnancy—weird, normal, fake—is definitely a theme. I’ve never been pregnant, but I think the sci-fi nature of the process (you’re growing a human inside of you! weird!) is appealing to me. Like I mentioned above, I’m also interested in bad behavior, secret and public. Even though I mostly write in third-person, there’s something really rewarding in mining and exploring the depths of a person’s weird psyche, even when—especially when—you don’t come up with tidy answers.
I also like writing about some of the odder and more dangerous sports I’ve participated in: pole vaulting, flying trapeze (confession: I was a total jock in high school). Mostly the sports have to do with some sort of manifestation of private bad behavior—for example, a thirty-year old guy who starts pole-vaulting in the middle of the night because he’s nervous about the impending birth of his first child (see how I snuck pregnancy in there, too?)
Do you experience writer's block? How do you deal with it?
The funny thing about writer’s block is the way people treat it like cold sores: Do you get writer’s block? Yes, sometimes, if I spend too much time in the sun. That said, I’ve spent my fair share of time holding down the delete key in a Word document. I passed my doctoral exams in August, which meant that I was suddenly free to write, and expected to write. The pressure was enormous, and I had trouble turning out stuff that seemed inspired. Sometimes I think it’s easier to write when you’re doing it in a clandestine manner—staying up with a flashlight when you’re supposed to be getting a good night’s sleep or reading a book on British postmodernism. I’m not sure I have a good answer for how I got through it, other than stubbornly continuing to write until what was turning up on the page seemed good again.