Volume 10 fiction and nonfiction writers William Hayward, Ross Hargreaves, Molly Seale, Heather Pegas, and Angela Townsend 

Artists on Artists: the Fiction and Nonfiction Writers of Vol. 10

By Vol. 10 Fiction and Nonfiction Authors | March 7, 2024

We asked the fiction and nonfiction writers from our Witness issue what questions they would want to ask their fellow Volume 10 contributors. A few then answered those questions, delving into their craft, their inspirations, and their approach to creating. Read on to learn more about William Hayward, author of “Da Steppt Der Bär,” Ross Hargreaves, author of “The Plank,” Molly Seale, author of “Ain’t Lizzie’s Spectrum,”  Heather Pegas, author of “For Five Trees,” and Angela Townsend, author of “Seen.”  Make sure to check out their work in Vol 10: WITNESS!

William Hayward, interviewed by Ross Hargreaves

Ross Hargreaves: Do you think that setting a story in a certain period of time, with mentions of pop culture and historical events, detracts from the possible timelessness of a given story?

William Hayward: I feel it depends entirely on the style of the story, and, more importantly, on the talent of the writer. By this I mean, if you can do it, include pop culture mentions and such and still give the reader an immersive or emotional experience where what they are consuming doesn’t have the feeling of being cemented in place, then you are a writer with far more talent than I. It’s a difficult thing to include contemporary or historical details and still have the writing feel authentic. When I try, the piece ends up feeling forced and without enjoyment and it’s because it isn’t natural for me to include these things. Often, I think writers, possibly to make their work feel relatable to modern readers, fill pages with needless details or references so exclusively of a time that they make the story have the feeling of fluff, immaterial and liable to just blow away. It’s only when details are placed for a purpose—narrative, aesthetic, structural, it matters not—and only when the writer, I feel, isn’t forcing them in that they can carry weight to the story and not detract from the thing itself. A good example of a writer who does it well is Anna Burns, her novels are all set during the Irish troubles and include mentions of historical and remembered events, and at the same time, on a purely immersive level, feel as if they could be set anywhere and at any time. Such is the strength of her writing. So, in short, I think no; it doesn’t have to detract if you’re very talented and very sure in yourself and the vision of what you’re putting out.

RH: Do you think long titles or short titles are better?

WH: I have almost no preference on the length of titles but an abundance on their quality. Myself, I love novels and short stories where the title, whether relevant to the content it is precluding or not, is a beautiful piece of imagery in itself. Such as the following title of a Camilia Grudova short story, ‘The Sad Tale of the Sconce’, which has such rhythm and beat to it lexically that I compulsively write it down in my notes app whenever I routinely forget and then rediscover it, with a plan to steal it for a story of my own in some distant time.

Ross Hargreaves, interviewed by William Hayward

William Hayward: Outside of fiction, what is the biggest influence on your writing?

Ross Hargreaves: Work. I’ve had a lot of jobs and all of them have been a gold mine of story material. The key is to make the mundane everyday of a particular job seem unique and interesting. 

WH: Do you focus more on story or style?

RH: I’ve heard “Is this a story?” a lot in workshops so I guess style. 

WH: If you could go back in time, what famous (or relatively unknown) writer would you be?

RH: Dennis Johnson. Sometimes Kafka. 

Molly Seale, interviewed by Angela Townsend

Angela Townsend: Vol. 10's theme is "WITNESS." Who has been the most loving witness to your life?

Molly Seale:  I don’t know that I can designate one person. My parents, even with all of their flaws and inadequacies, loved me unconditionally, to the best of their abilities. And I have been fortunate to have had two loving marriages, one husband lost to death, the other very much alive. My three children have been gifts extraordinaire. To this day, they keep me aware of the reality of “witness.”

AT: Who or what do you turn to when you are in need of hope?

MS: I turn to the present moment, where existence simply IS – no past, no future, just NOW in all of its perfection/imperfection.

AT: Finish the following sentence: "I would love it if readers felt that my writing ..."

MS: I would love it if readers felt that my writing resonates with them, speaks to them, and perhaps even for them. I know I have felt this about writers whose works, regardless of how unknown, “speak” to me in a way that allows me to turn my gaze inward and, subsequently, outward.

AT: What is something you hope to witness in your life?

MS: Loves and losses are part of living, but I would love to witness a lack of animosity among peoples, a striving toward connection, if not understanding. For indeed, because we are human, we ARE connected, more alike than different. 

Heather Pegas, interviewed by Molly Seale

Molly Seale: In writing memoir, what techniques do you utilize to frame the memories, and how do you  negotiate the perception of memory in regard to the reality of memory?

Heather Pegas: The longer I write, the more I see that just about anything can be used as a framing device. I’ve seen memoir pieces written as recipes, diary entries, in different geometric shapes, iPhone texts—all manner of clever devices. I recently heard the term “hermit crab essay” to describe these forms. Which isn’t to say that a straightforward, linear account can’t also be an effective frame. I consider that just about anything goes! In For Five Trees, I used objects, five species of trees, to frame memories I wanted to explore. Each one had something to say to me.

Regarding memory’s holes and flaws, no human can know with certainty they’ve remembered something accurately. But really, what is “accuracy” or “reality” when it comes to the past? I think there’s a soft (hopefully forgiving) boundary between what was real and what is true. When I write memoir, I know I may not be getting every detail “right,” but I strive to ensure everything I put down on the page is true.

MS: In writing nonfiction, where do you draw the line between what IS or WAS, and what is, essentially, fiction?

HP: I addressed a bit of this in the question above, but one thing I do to help improve the accuracy of my memories is—if I experience something that feels worthy of memoirizing—jotting down facts, feeling and impressions as soon as I can after the event. Obviously, this won’t work if you’re recalling something from years back, and I may not do anything with those notes for a while, or ever. But I like to minimize “fiction,” intentional or unintentional, in what I’m representing as true. I try to use my (as yet unpublished) short stories for that!

MS: How do you lift what is essential from the morass of information that exists in nonfiction, whether it is essay, history, memoir, etc.?

HP: Stephen Marche, in his On Writing and Failure, says that "every literary essay takes the form of a complaint." I absolutely love that! And in recent years, there’s been a trend towards nonfiction “complaints” that, to me, are TMI, where the writer lets every gory detail hang out. I realize this can be a good strategy to break through the glut of content, to get over that attention barrier. (Most writers know how brutally hard it is to gain an audience.) But I feel uncomfortable with literary complaints that are personal to the point of oversharing. I want to tap into what is universal and can be felt by others, not just what is particular to me. For example, climate concerns come bubbling up in roughly half of my writings now. I worry that children to be born may never get an opportunity to swim in a healthy ocean or meet a frog or to see the trees that I wrote about. That feels essential to me, and that’s the work I want to put out to the world.

Angela Townsend, interviewed by Heather Pegas

Heather Pegas: What emotions were you feeling when you wrote this piece? How did they emerge in the final product?

Angela Townsend: My memory of the season in “Seen” is flooded with gratitude, so it was a joy to tell this story. Whenever I turn my past over on the page, I hope it will spill light. In this case, the bright flash of rebirth, claiming my dignity as the “seer” instead of the “seen,” made for a celebratory feeling. I hope that comes across in the story, and that readers come away refreshed to “follow the light without conditions” through their own lenses.

HP: What piece of nonfiction (essay, book, other) do you wish YOU had written? 

AT: Everything that has ever left the pen of Brian Doyle and Anne Lamott!

HP: Do you have a “day job” (other than writing creatively)? If you do, how does it impact your writing?

AT: For 16 years, I have been the Development Director for a cat sanctuary, a 12,000-square-foot parable of love. We are ostensibly a sanctuary for cats from hopeless situations, but the open secret is that we are also a shelter for bruised humans, which is to say all of us.

One of my responsibilities is writing newsletters and blogs about our 100+ feline residents, many of whom have endured hardships worthy of a Greek tragedy. They are small stories in service to a big story. The cats rise to each day as though it were the first dawn. They are forgiveness on four legs (or three, as the case may be). They have amassed an astounding community of love across six continents. Dealing with our volunteers and donors is a masterclass in human goodness.

I am ever more alert to mercy and miracles. I am driven to tell the big story where every living creature finds a place at love’s table.

HP: What’s one question you wish someone would ask about your piece in Fatal Flaw? How would you answer it?

AT: “Did you keep the lens open?”

And the answer is: “Mostly.”

The piece ends so triumphantly, it suggests I never “relapsed” into selling my sight for the price of being seen as worthy. It is a constant odyssey to trust my own eyes. I forget. Insecurity blurs the lens for hours or days, but I wake up—or, more accurately, I am gently awakened again.

About the author

William Hayward was born in Birmingham, England. He has been writing for several years, mainly in short fiction. He's previously been published in The Emerald City Review, The White Wall Review, Terrain.org, Litro Magazine, and Underwood Press.

Ross Hargreaves has an MFA from the University of Idaho. His work has appeared in Mikrokosmos, Quibble Lit and God's Cruel Joke. He lives and writes in Idaho.

Molly Seale has published memoir, essays, short stories, and poems in a variety of publications, including Hippocampus Magazine, Connotation Press, New Millennium Writings, Hotel Amerika, Months to Years, Humans of the World, The Write Launch, and Cathexis Northwest Press, as well as in numerous anthologies. She holds an MFA in Theatre from The University of Texas and resides in Makanda, Illinois.

Heather Pegas is a Los Angeles-based writer and grant professional whose essays have appeared in Tahoma Literary Review, Tiny Molecules, Longridge Review, and elsewhere. Her nonfiction was also a 2020 Editorial Board selection in Slag Glass City. She suffers from severe climate anxiety.

Angela Townsend is the Development Director at Tabby’s Place: a Cat Sanctuary, where she bears witness to mercy for all beings. She graduated from Princeton Seminary and Vassar College. Her work appears in Braided Way, Cagibi, Hawaii Pacific Review, The Razor, and The Spotlong Review, among others. Angie has lived with Type 1 diabetes for 33 years, laughs with her poet mother every morning, and loves life affectionately. She lives just outside Philadelphia with two shaggy comets disguised as cats.

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Artists on Artists: the Visual Artists of Vol 10

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