Thursday, December 06, 2018

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Stacy Austin Egan

Stacy Austin Egan's fiction chapbook, You Could Stop It Here, was released by PANK Books this past spring. Her fiction has appeared in PANK Magazine, Driftwood Press, The New Plains Review, WomenArts Quarterly Journal, The MacGuffin, Black Fox Literary Magazine, and Philadelphia Stories. She earned her MFA in fiction from McNeese State University and lives in west Texas with her husband and daughter. She teaches English and Literature at Midland College.

1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

When my chapbook was selected for publication, I was thrilled because it was the start of finding a real audience for my writing. I don't think my writing has changed much theme wise. I'm still very interested in writing about adolescence; the vulnerability and feeling of heightened stakes makes it compelling to write about.

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

I've always been interested in reading and writing fiction. I've experimented with both poetry and non-fiction, but I'm frankly not very good at either. I love writing dialogue, so I think fiction most appeals to me in part because of that.

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

I have long periods where I think about a story before writing it. Once I have time to write a draft, it comes pretty quickly, but I send it to a few good readers and then spend a lot of time in revision. The process can sometimes take a year because I set stories aside between drafts.

4 - Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I usually see characters with a compelling relationship and hear dialogue in my mind first. I often am inspired by a song. These pieces are all short stories that just happened to work together as a chapbook.

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

I love giving readings; I often have to sing or read a phrase in a language I don't speak, which can be a bit nerve-wracking, but I really enjoy sharing my work and hearing an audience's reaction.

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I think writing should make us ask questions, but I don't think it is the job of fiction to provide answers. Fiction allows readers to build empathy by experiencing the inner lives of others. We should constantly be questioning our opinions, values, beliefs, etc. Reading is a great way to challenge our notions about what we think, but it is just one route to greater self awareness.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

I think the role of the writer is to use fiction to reflect truths that show readers more about who they are.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

I think good editing is essential. When I was in the process of editing this collection, I would see new corrections constantly. Every editor that has ever given me notes on a story has strengthened not only that piece but my writing in general.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Our workshop leader in graduate school, Neil Connelly, would always say "you can't hit a home-run if you don't step up to bat." I think about that advice because it reminds me to just keep writing. You really have no control over the publication process, and much of it is just luck, so all you can do is keep producing work you're excited about.

10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I do not have a routine and do not recommend working that way! During the school year, giving myself deadlines is the only way I can get through a draft. In the summer, when I'm not teaching, I am able to write on a daily basis and for longer periods of time. This is when I'm able to get the most done.

11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

When I need inspiration, I make sure that I'm reading writing that I admire.

12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

It's hard to pick just one--BBQ, Dryer sheets, fresh cut grass...

13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Definitely music. I work a song into almost all of my short stories. My husband actually pointed that out to me a year ago; I don't make a concerted effort to do it, but it just ends up that way. I like to listen to music as I write too; often, I listen to one song on repeat, which would probably drive most people nuts.

14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

For short fiction, Jeanne Leiby, Joyce Carol Oates, Danielle Evans, Alice Munro, ZZ Packer, and Lauren Groff are writers whose work I find myself going back to a lot. Lindsay Hunter, Samantha Hunt, Myfanwy Collins, Kara Vernor, Lorrie Moore, Allie Mariano, and Emily Alford are other favorites. I teach, read, and love the poetry of Amy Fleury, Gary Jackson, and Michael Shewmaker. I am honored to be a first reader for my husband, Brendan Egan, and critiquing his work over the years has certainly helped me improve my own.

15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Writing wise: finish a novel. Life-wise: visit Australia and New Zealand.

16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

Being a writer and a teacher is a perfect fit for me. I once had an internship with a casting director's office, and I found that really interesting; I was obsessed with pulling headshots out of the slush pile to show the casting directors and very hopeful that I could help someone become a star. The casting directors were never impressed with my picks though.

17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

When I was a child, I would write short stories, poems, plays, and even begin novels. Writing has always been a creative outlet for me. As a young child, I struggled with learning to read, and as a result, I became an avid reader once I caught up. I think reading all the time made me naturally inclined to write. 

18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

I'm currently reading Rough Animals by Rae DelBianco and Everyday People, a short story anthology edited by Jennifer Baker. A non-fiction book I think everyone should read is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. A movie I recently loved was The Florida Project.

19 - What are you currently working on?

A young adult novel. I've been working on it off and on for years in between short stories. I hope to finish it this summer.

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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