We asked the fiction, flash fiction, and nonfiction authors from our latest issue what questions they would want to ask their fellow Volume 6 contributors. A few then answered those questions, delving into their craft, their inspirations, and their approach to creating. Read on to learn more about fiction, flash fiction, and nonfiction writers Gerald Yelle, author of "Bank," Mia Arias Tsang, author of "Joy," Sara Streeter, author of "Erased," Devin Welch, author of "Pictures From Afar," and Amy Eden Jollymore, author of "Your Birth Plan." And make sure to check out their work in Vol 6: Fatal Flaw!
James Gianetti: Besides other stories, poems, and writers, where else do you draw inspiration from?
Gerald Yelle: Inspirations: Living all my life in Western Mass, jobs, friends, family, romance, places, dreams. Some vague sense that this is what there is for me to do.
JG: Who are some of your favorite new writers/poets?
GY: I recently read Knausgaard's six volume My Struggle as well as his latest novel. I also like Rachel Zucker's poems, though I haven't read as many as I'd like to. I'm friends with a lot of good writers in Western Mass – I wouldn't want to single anyone out.
JG: What do you think is the biggest misconception about writers in 2022?
GY: The biggest misconception? Maybe that the internet is dumbing-down the language. That vocabularies are shrinking and with them the ability to think. Maybe the idea that you could generalize about writers at all.
JG: If you could go on a date with any writer (living or dead) who would it be? Where would you go? Why? (Don’t worry, we won’t tell your significant other).
GY: I would like to meet Jhumpa Lahiri. I'd probably spend the whole time telling her how much I love her story "The Third and Final Continent." I'd want to have dinner in the Italian town that was the setting of one of her recent stories.
JG: Do you agree with the age old saying “Write what you know?” Do you feel that may curtail the opportunity to challenge yourself and push beyond your creative comfort zone?
GY: Writing what you know: It may be a good place to start – and it probably explains Knausgaard's achievement. I like to write about certain things I don't know, but I try to link to it to what I do know – have it make sense on some level.
JG: Do you feel like you have a wheelhouse of sorts? A genre or tone you keep coming back to in your writing?
GY: Wheelhouse? Matter-of-fact equanimity in the face of absurd realism. I think that's an attitude I've been able to cultivate and have people respond to. But I don't like thinking in terms of a wheelhouse. I also enjoy certain attempts at wordplay and verbal gymnastics.
JG: What are you working on currently?
GY: What I'm working on: In addition to revising a short novel, I'm transcribing a notebook/diary from 2007 to use as raw material for poems and flash fictions.
Devin Welch: Is there a mental room or place, different than where you actually do your writing, that you go to in order to write? If so, what does it look like? And what helps you get there?
Mia Arias Tsang: I don’t think there’s really a mental place, per se. I usually start writing by listening to some relaxing music to calm my mind and let me see the path forward more clearly. It doesn’t really feel that different at first, but once I get going, I enter a flow state that’s almost trancelike. My brain is a creepy little labyrinth and I couldn’t really tell you what goes on in there when that switch gets flipped.
DW: What is a recurring piece of imagery that you use for your craft? Something you would pass on to a student who needs to visualize what they’re lacking. For instance, do you see plot points as certain shapes, or humor and drama as certain colors?
MAT: This is a really interesting question! At first I had no idea how to answer this but after giving it some thought, I realized that my stories all move from blue to yellow, or more generally from cold to warm (but the two colors I can see most often are blue and yellow). The advice I got from my writing teachers in the past was that from the start to the end, the protagonist must undergo some kind of change. For me, my protagonists are all missing some part of themselves, and by the end of the story they either find it or start on the journey to find it. The color/temperature shift happens as they recover or uncover their missing piece. It’s a way for me to track whether enough transformation is happening across the piece – the ending shouldn’t still be blue.
DW: What senses need to be engaged in order for you to work?
MAT: The biggest one is hearing— I NEED to be listening to music to write. I make a playlist of songs specific to every project that puts me in the emotional and mental states of my characters, so sometimes I listen to those, or other times I just listen to my favorite bands to get me pumped up and excited to work. But I also like to stimulate my sense of smell. I’m a huge candle girl and have amassed a large collection of candles over the years, so I always light one when I’m sitting down to write. Also, the scent of coffee gets me into writing mode like no other, so if I’m not writing at home I’ll go to a coffee shop. The smell does more for my creativity than the caffeine itself.
DW: Favorite outfit to write in and why?
MAT: As a birthday gift to myself, I splurged on a loungewear set that was on sale at Reformation. It’s an obscenely soft, cable-knit pants and tank-top duo that is ridiculously comfortable but also looks good – like, I could totally leave the house in it if I wanted. It’s a step up from the usual sweatpants and old band-t-shirt I wear on lazy days, but doesn’t sacrifice any comfort. I can’t wear it all the time because I have a kitten at home and can’t pick her up while wearing it, because her claws get stuck in the knitting loops. So I’ve made a point to save it for writing or when I have to get a lot done at work – I basically gave myself Pavlovian conditioning to enter productivity mode whenever I put it on.
Amy Eden Jollymore: What do you hope readers notice about your work?
Sara Streeter: I hope they sense its urgency and vulnerability.
AEJ: What is your favorite sentence, line, or square inch of your recent piece in Fatal Flaw?
SS: "As I pass through time zones and move further and further from the origin of me, the center of who I could have been, more of my infant body dematerializes into the clouds."
AEJ: What is one of your surprising writing habits?
SS: When I write longhand and then transcribe my scribbles onto the computer, it's often better work.
AEJ: What did it take for you to start identifying as an artist, poet, or writer?
SS: I've always been a writer at heart, but I'm finally brave enough now to share my truth.
AEJ: Say something about the relationship between you and your work once it’s released.
SS: It's more me than anything else I've put out into the world so far.
AEJ: What gets you unstuck?
SS: Learning from other creatives, paging through my notes and teenage journals.
AEJ: What misconception about creative work most freed you once you overcame it?
SS: As a designer, I learned creating something beautiful and important isn't a straight line; it's a circular, messy process. Enjoy it.
Maxim Matusevich: Michel de Montaigne once quipped that pleasure is the ultimate objective of any human endeavor, including the pursuit of virtue. Do you derive pleasure from the process of writing? Is it a blessing or simply a chore that you feel needs to be performed?
Devin Welch: The pleasures of writing come and go. Typically, there’s a struggle to start. But once the pen cap comes off it’s satisfaction there on — at least in the first draft. I think the most enjoyable part of the process is excavating the imagination, because this is where I get to say the things I didn’t know I needed to. Sometimes that happens symbolically, most of the time accidentally. It’s the umpteenth drafts to follow that are a Rocky Balboa match.
MM: Have your literary tastes changed over time? Are there any authors that inspired you in the past but whose work has since stopped being exciting for you? Why?
DW: My tastes have certainly expanded. I can’t say I would’ve had much capacity for a writer like Mieko Kawakami fifteen years ago, but as I grew to relate to more mature (and often subtler) themes, the books I owed library late fees for changed too. But if I see someone looking at a copy of The Illustrated Man at the bookshop, I run home to revisit those stories with the same enthusiasm as ever. The trick, for me, is to have a small conversation with myself before I dig in. Read as you would have at thirteen. Don’t critique, just enjoy, I say. It works.
MM: Are there any particular themes/plots that you feel drawn to over and over again?
DW: My writing seems to revolve around intricacies (and addictiveness) of solitude. “Solitude” to me doesn’t necessarily mean sitting alone in a room and not speaking with anyone. It means finding calm with myself in the face of daily life. My plots seem to keep finding ways to challenge that. Go figure.
MM: Do you ever identify with your characters? Or are they completely autonomous from you?
DW: Initially, my characters personify archetypal desires that I feel, but wish to understand better. From there, these characters take their own paths and become autonomous. Then at the end they always seem to end up back at my place, recognizable and better understood.
MM: Has the “act of writing” changed your self-perception?
DW: It’s hard to discern what’s natural growth and what writing contributes to self-perception, but I’ll try — it’s not that I don’t feel insecure or have to pay taxes, I do, but I feel less crippled by these sorts of things because I have an outlet like art to make that mundanity more interesting. In that sense, writing enables me, and for an introverted person whose self-perception is decently-hearted with a lot of growth and healing still to do, it’s a great form of accountability.
Fatal Flaw: How did your piece for this issue come to be?
Amy Eden Jollymore: I started the essay many years ago but struggled to find a way to make it universal, not just about me. It was originally told in first person, which seemed like an obvious choice for a personal essay, but then two things happened: I tried telling it in second person and I saw statistics about how common near-death childbirth experiences are. From there I was compelled to finish the piece. The theme of the issue was tailor-made: my fatal flaw was thinking I could choreograph a perfect birth experience. As it turned out, I was lucky to leave the hospital with my uterus — and a baby.
FF: When and where do you do your best writing?
AEJ: Pre-dawn is my time, when it’s dark and inactive outside — seated at my writing desk, behind a folding screen in my bedroom. If I’m writing during the day, I add a hat and pull it down low, to focus, or I’ll drive one town over and park at a trailhead with a notebook.
FF: What’s the last piece of art that really moved you?
AEJ: I used to live in Manhattan, years ago. I visited this spring. Something exploded in my throat when I approached the edge of the World Trade Center memorial. I hadn’t seen any photos of the space. I had no idea what to expect and, honestly, felt skeptical. I was deeply moved by the designer’s interpretation of the tragedy (Michael Arad) and his use of space — I felt as gutted as the location.
FF: What’s the hardest lesson you’ve had to learn about being a writer?
AEJ: To trust the process. That’s code for accepting that it takes as long as it takes to craft a piece and that the work often wants something of me that wasn’t the plan.
FF: What is your favorite word?
AEJ: The word is once. It’s a shape-shifter. It’s supposed to mean one time only, but does it? Consider once a week or once again — or, worse, “just this once.” Lies! It packs drama and I love how it can evoke a wistful feel, too — the oldest house in town once stood on that riverbank, before the floods.
FF: If you could magically master a new skill overnight, what would it be?
AEJ: Oh god, to master dance — salsa and swing.
Gerald Yelle’s books include The Holyoke Diaries and Mark My Word and the New World Order. He has an e-chapbook at Yavaneka Press: “Industries Built on Words” and a chapbook “No Place I Would Rather Be” from Finishing Line Press. FutureCycle will publish Dreaming Alone and with Others in 2023. He is a member of the Florence, MA Poets Society.
Mia Arias Tsang (she/her) is a writer and recent graduate of Yale University, where she studied molecular biology and creative writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fatal Flaw Magazine, Bullshit Lit, Fifth Wheel Press, the Yale Daily News Magazine, and Broad Recognition, Yale’s intersectional feminist magazine. She lives in New York City with her cat, Peanut. Find her on Instagram @tami3000 and Twitter @cool4asecond.
Sara Streeter (Hea Sook Han) is a transracially adopted Korean-American who was relinquished at birth and adopted at four months old. By writing about the complicated truths wrapped up in adoption, she hopes to amplify the adoptee narrative and bring to light the unique challenges adoptees face. Sara writes creative nonfiction and is working on a novel. She is thrilled to announce this is her first piece published in a literary magazine.
Devin Welch writes stories, comics, poetry, and reviews. He was born and raised in Denver, Colorado, and currently lives in London. Devinlanewelch.com
Amy Eden Jollymore is an education writer from Petaluma, CA. Her work has appeared in Gigantic Sequins and was chosen as a Fiction Open finalist by Glimmer Train. She holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
James Gianetti is a writer from New Jersey. His short fiction and work have been published or is forthcoming in Hearth & Coffin, Mayberry Review, Collective Unrest, Hobart, and Cold Creek Review. His debut novel, The Town of Jasper was released in 2017. He received an Editor’s Choice Emblem for his short fiction from Hearth & Coffin Literary Journal. Beyond writing, James teaches middle school special education in New Jersey. You can find him on twitter @Jamesgianetti or at http://www.jamesgianetti.com/.
Maxim Matusevich has published extensively as a historian, but in the last few years has also begun to write fiction – mostly in English, but occasionally in his native Russian. His short stories, essays, and a couple of novellas appeared in the Kenyon Review, New England Review, the Bare Life Review, Transitions, San Antonio Review, MumberMag, Anti-Heroin-Chic, BigCityLit, the Wild Word, Foreign Literary, ReLevant, East-West Literary Forum, WordCity Literary Journal, and a number of other publications.
Learn more about fiction and flash fiction writers James Gianetti, Rebecca Kilroy, Bea Karol, and Maxim Matusevich. And make sure to check out their work in Vol 6: Fatal Flaw!