What is a current project you are working on?
I’m playing around in non-fiction a lot right now. For years I worked at a brewery in Seattle– a true independent, craft micro-brewery. Well, one day I missed an early morning meeting, and came in for an afternoon shift only to learn the owners had sold the business to a corporate beer company. Overnight the language of the place went from irreverent to ironic. So, I’m writing about that. I’m collecting memories, interviews, blurbs, news articles, advertisements, and photos and I’m building some kind of memoir. I wanted it to be a biography, but I think it might be a love story.
What is the one piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you the most?
I’ve been quite lucky to get a lot of solid advice over the years. Either from professors, or from my fellow classmates, so it’s hard to really pick one. Recently my friend Alex told me to just nerd out and write about whatever weird obsession I currently have. I like that.
While in my senior year at UW I got to take a class with Juan Filipe Herrera. The man sees poetry in everything. He handpicked little stones from a beach in California and asked us to hold it while we wrote, he had us go for walks in the rain and write down exactly what we felt and saw, and he showed up with construction paper on several different occasions to make little chapbooks. It was silly at times, and I questioned the methods for the first few weeks, but it became clear he was reminding us to have fun with writing. He was helping us see poetry in everything. I know that might sound obvious, but after four years of competitive writing classes the idea of having fun was sort of lost on me. I needed that. So even now when writing something dark, or as heartbreaking as “Half an Hour…” I still try to have fun with it.
What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other writers or outside influences?
As cliché as it may sound, my friends and family are an endless spring of inspiration, but I draw inspiration from everything. My professors over the years: David Shields, Karen Hartman, Shawn Wong, Hilary Plum (who helped me workshop this essay)– authors like Shawn Wen, Joshua Wheeler, Sarah Manguso, Kurt Vonnegut – to Annie Baker, Stephen Adly Guirgus– even hip hop artists like Sage Francis, El P, and Nas. I just enjoy great story tellers. I’ve learned new moves from them all… the tricky part is when I try to execute using the messy collage in my head.
Do you have a favorite place to write, or are there any habits, inspirations, or rituals that help you?
Usually at home. When I try to write outside I get overwhelmed. I have these water proof notebooks that allow me to write in the rain and that can be fun, mostly for its absurdity. But home. Boring ol’ home. I suppose vacuuming could be viewed as a ritual… I can’t write at home if the floor needs to be vacuumed.
How do you find inspiration for your work, particularly this piece?
Often I’ll get an image in my head that I can’t shake. An encounter. A sign. A pickle in a to go food box that’s been wrapped in plastic so as not to contaminate a sandwich. Something will just strike me the right way– then I have to overthink until my hand starts putting things on paper. I sort of seek out inspiration anywhere I can, and usually something small will act as a catalyst to put it all in motion.
Sadly, the inspiration for this piece came out of a woeful situation where I found myself standing just on the outside. I think a lot of it is catharsis– I just needed to get this out of my head.
Recounting events spanning decades of time, what was your process when deciding how to structure your piece “Half an Hour Late, and 15 Years”?
This piece was a bit maddening to write. I was lucky in that the structure came out naturally. To recount all of the conversations and events that occurred over the course of 15 years was not easy. As I get older I find it more difficult to remember details. This is problematic when a D. A. calls you to ask what you know. Firstly, I didn’t know anything. My experience was as an audience to others involved. I was able to witness the reactions of those in the situation, and I made judgements on that, as well as the details they told me. But those details were losing their definition. The more I was asked questions, the more I second-guessed my own memory. So, instead of trying to fake it through, I simply wrote the confusion I suffered. I put down everything I remembered, and I put down everything I thought I remembered, then I fact-checked dates after. It didn’t take much for the confusion and anxiety to pervade the pages. Though it did become a bit of a balancing act making sure it’s the context that is ultimately the source of the confusion, and not the order of the blurbs.
This isn’t easy subject matter. These were friends of mine– people I’ve known my entire life, so that made things difficult, too. I always want to believe in the people I’ve brought into my life, but then there was an arrest, and subpoenas, then a criminal trial, then a verdict…it all broke my heart. There are real victims I’m talking about in this piece, and while I wrote an essay to examine my own feelings, and pain caused by this situation, it is nothing compared to those whose lives have forever been changed by the events. It’s profoundly tragic.