What is a current project you are working on?
I’m hoping to finish my debut collection of short stories this summer. I’ve been working on it for the past four years, and I can see the end in sight. My final stories are all outlined and ready to go. The story I’m currently focusing on is about a father and son who are navigating the flooded Earth in search of a set of memories that, they hope, float beneath them. Like most of my stories, it’s sad and mixed with a sense of magic. I’m in love with it and can’t wait to be able to share it.
What is the piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you the most?
So many people talk about the importance of a writer writing every day, but I just don’t buy into that too much. I mean, I think about my writing constantly—daily, maybe even hourly on most days; however, I don’t put those thoughts into action until I’m emotionally ready to give them everything I have. Sometimes, it takes me a few days to start a story I have outlined. At other times, it might take me months before I feel that I’m ready to give the story life.
What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other writers or outside influences?
Honestly, it’s probably our country’s social and political cultures that influence my writing more than anything else. I see oppression; I see mistreatment; I see pain. My writing serves as a reaction in which I give a voice to those who are often pushed to the sidelines.
There are certainly writers who inspire my work, too. Karen Russell, Carmen Maria Machado, Lesley Nneka Arimah, Victor LaValle, Kiese Laymon, Samantha Hunt, and Ruth Ozeki are immediate names that come to my mind as writers who have shaped my craft. I love magical realism and stories that focus on young adults edging into adulthood. These writers offer these approaches in various ways. My writing attempts to do the same.
What was your inspiration for this piece? Is this a common thread through your writing or is this piece experimental in that way?
“Peaches’ Menagerie” was initially conceived from my reaction to the U.S. response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Innocent children are being ignored and forgotten when what they need is someone to help them—and to love them. It’s a humanitarian disaster. In my story, sick kids are abandoned because they are too sick to be cared for by their lazy and scared parents. The adults in the story can’t deal with the burden of having children who are different. Peaches, a societal outcast, takes these children in, and she loves them. The result, I think, is a powerful one—one that shows the importance of love and kindness. I think this thematic link threads many of my stories together.
Can you recommend one book that you think everyone should read and tell us why?
I’m going to cheat and pick two. Short stories hold a special place in my heart, and Karen Russell’s St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves is my favorite collection. It’s inventive, magical, and just absolutely spectacular. I teach the title story and “Haunting Olivia” in one of my courses, and I fall more in love with both of them after every reading. Each story in the collection, though, is totally mind-blowing. For lovers of weird fiction or magical realism, read St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. The second book is Kiese Laymon’s hilarious and heartfelt Long Division. It’s a masterclass in establishing voice. It also has time travel and a spelling bee. And you really can’t beat those two things…