Friday Feature: Interview with Fiona Kelly
Each week, the editors of Jenny Magazine sit down with either fellow literary magazine editors or past Jenny contributors for short interviews. This week’s interview is with Fiona Kelly, a past contributor of Jenny Magazine.
Describe your first publication. Where was it, when, and what was the piece about? How old were you at the time and how did it feel?
I think I had a poem or something published somewhere in grade school. My mom would probably know more about that than I, which I think explains the impact it had on me.
I also had, in high school, a piece of mine put on Cicada Magazine’s website. It wasn’t chosen for the print publication, but it was still pretty cool.
Other than that, my first real publication was in Jenny and The Penguin Review, since my pieces were chosen by both at around the same time. I honestly did not think “Porch Cat” would be chosen because I had written it just in time to submit it before the deadline and it had little to no editing done on it before said submission, though (mechanically at least) I’m usually pretty okay with impromptu writing. I was pleasantly surprised when it was. I still kind of think it was published at least partially due to the cat pictures I included at the end. My reaction was similar with The Penguin Review. I maintain that I’m not a very good poet, yet people seem to like my poems. I felt very honored when they were chosen and a little smug as well (finally, I can say that the C average I had in English classes in high school were because I was some sort of literary Einstein).
What inspired your piece in the Jenny?
A cat inspired my piece. At the time, I had recently taken Lady, the star of the piece, into my house. Writing is easy when the inspiration is laying across your keyboard.
Lady had been on my mind for several months leading up to that. She constantly hung around the house, and once she got to trust us (and no longer had kittens to worry about) she basically adopted us. Since cats are so aloof, I wanted to somehow record this honor.
Really though, I just like cats a lot.
What got you into writing?
I got into writing in the same way most children get into anything. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and I was told that I was a good writer and not terribly good at math or science and that the fine arts won’t get you anywhere, so I figured some sort of an English program was my best bet when applying to college.
As a result of this, I joined the Professional and Technical Writing program and spent the next four and a half years learning the ins and outs of writing. Moreover, when I started working for the Writing Center, I realized that, in order to tutor most effectively, I would have to have a deep understanding of the writing process. I then tried to not only write, but to understand how I came to a particular word order or why I structured my paragraphs a certain way. This realization of structure helped me improve and, because I was good and read other people’s writing every day, encouraged me to write more, both academically, and, finally, creatively.
What do you like writing the most? Is there a certain style you prefer?
I most enjoy creative nonfiction. Not only does it allow you to make sense of all the random, funny, or sad moments in life, but it also forces you into making experiences for yourself and reflecting on those experiences. Writing in general makes you observe the world around you, but creative non-fiction most makes you a participant. Instead of waiting for inspiration, the creative non-fiction writer can jump on a plane and go somewhere they’ve never been, join the circus, or do something illegal (though I do not necessarily advocate this last one).
Additionally, I really like academic writing. It’s fascinating to me and I, like every student, do a lot of it. It allows me to use writing to explore new and interesting things. Particularly, I enjoy writing about linguistics. It satisfies my need to do something tangible and analytical while also allowing me to play with language.
I wouldn’t say I like writing poetry as much as I enjoy it. I do like I can break rules while doing it. I’ve really only ever written poems for classes, however. As a result, I will take an assignment, consider it, and then promptly ignore it. Other people tend to enjoy reading my poems far more than I enjoy writing them, or vice versa.
What are your influences? Who are your favorite writers?
I am heavily influenced and very much admire David Sedaris. There is no purer motivation for getting into a field than to support your meth habit.
I also enjoy J.K. Rowling, Harlan Ellison, Virginia Woolf, Gail Simone, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and I take anything William Labov writes as gospel, though he isn’t a writer in the traditional sense.
I am heavily influenced by writers who have distinct voices. Voice is so hard in any type of writing. This is one of the cases where creative writing is harder than academics. In academic writing, you can basically default to a very formal voice, and I like that; it’s safe, and I’m good at it. I think this tone is pretty close to standard for me and comes across in my writing.
I’m also very influenced and intrigued by unique structure. Rowling, Sedaris, and Ellison in particular are very good at this. They are able to communicate humor and emotions in a way that really very few people can. This linguistic side of writing is very interesting to me. The way people speak says a lot about them. I think how people write says a lot about them too. When people have time to sit and carefully choose the words they convey to a reader or listeners, why do they choose that word or that sentence structure? I sit around and think about this a lot and I try to emulate the patterns I find to convey certain things to readers. In particular, I use what I’ve found works for Rowling and Sedaris to use humor effectively, which is extremely tricky at the best of times.
What’s your proudest moment as an author?
My proudest moment as an author happened in my first class at YSU. I don’t even particularly recall the prompt, but I was in Dr. Steve Reese’s Writing 1 class, and, for our first essay, we were required to write a creative nonfiction piece. At this point in my life, I wanted desperately to separate my adult self from everything I had been up until that point. I had gotten good grades into the class, but, since it was our first big assignment, I really wanted to impress. I worked on it all weekend, and proudly turned it in.
As the week progressed, however, I worried that there would be issues with the essay. I was concerned that it was too personal or simply did not fit the assignment. Eventually, the assignment was passed back to us and I found one comment at the very end: “bravo” written in red ink with full marks. That gave me the confidence that pushed me through my bachelor’s degree and through every rejection letter.
How has your writing developed over time?
One of my earliest memories involving writing was in elementary or middle school. We were required to write creatively for 20 minutes or so each morning and then share what we wrote with the class. I wrote what I now know to be fanfiction every day for like two weeks: specifically Pokémon fanfiction.
After the second week, my teacher told me that I couldn’t write about Pokémon anymore because she and the class were tired of listening to my epic.
I don’t think that particular restraint killed my love of writing in grade school, but I certainly don’t remember enjoying writing again until college. Before that time, I did the bare minimum in classes and sometimes derped my way into something good through a mixture of some innate talent and dumb luck.
After starting college, I began to take my writing much more seriously. I actually practiced writing, and, like anything, this caused me to get better at it. I focused on learning all that I could about the mechanics and structure of writing, and, once I felt I had adequately understood all of that, I put a lot of focus on original thinking and creativity where there was none before.
To put it simply, I used to write Pokémon fanfiction and now I don’t.
Are you currently working on anything?
Currently, I’m working with Nicole Emery on the book How to be a Fucking Adult. I’m also working with Nick Uroseva and Chris Kasmar on two comic books.
Since the next Jenny deadline is coming up, I’m working on some pieces for that as well. Finally, I am doing research for my master’s thesis.
What’s your writing process?
My writing process is all about passion. I tend to depend a lot on inspiration, so I can become moody and procrastinate if I do not feel it come to me immediately. Once I have an idea of what I want to write, however, I create a detailed outline and notes that look like they were written by a crazy person. These notes usually include things like lines I want to include, points I want to make, and things I want to avoid. After all this is done, I begin to write.
During the actual writing process, I jump around a lot, and my outline and notes act as a safety net which allow me to do that. I will decide that I’m bored in the middle of a paragraph or sentence and that I want to write something else. So, I’ll go to a different part of the paper and start to write that. Little by little, the draft begins to make more and more sense. As I’m going, I’ll realize that certain parts need to be moved or omitted entirely. These will be done and my pre-writing materials will be updated.
It used to be that the draft would come out entirely differently than what I intended, but that’s gotten to be less so over time and as I’ve gotten to know myself more.
After the first draft, I edit and hack at it until I think that it’s perfect or at least acceptable. I’ll have others read it (or maybe not) during this step and if they say they don’t like it or I feel like they don’t like it, I’ll sulk for a bit more and then start to hack at it again and make a note to not let them read anything of mine anymore.
What are you currently reading?
Currently, I’m re-reading The Harry Potter series, which I revisit every summer. I’m also trudging my way through the first Vampire Diaries book. It’s not that great. I’ve been reading Pride and Prejudice for the past year or so as well. I like it a lot.
As always, I’m keeping up on my comics. I’m getting through the tail end of DC’s New 52 and I’ve followed Batgirl, Batwoman, Red Hood and the Outlaws, Wonder Woman, and Birds of Prey. I’ve also recently become obsessed with Ms. Marvel. In my opinion, it’s one of the most important series to come out recently.
My Goodreads account also says I’m reading Lucky by Alice Sebold, though it is currently collecting dust on my bookshelf.
Have you ever co-written something with another author? If so, what was that experience like?
I am currently working on a book called How to be a Fucking Adult with the wildly talented Nicole Emery. The concept and the first draft were written by Nicole. From there, she got in contact with me via a mutual friend and we started to collaborate together on the book.
It was an interesting experience, and Nicole is a dream to work with. Since she had a first draft basically ready, I took that as inspiration and created a few other sections of the book as well as filling in some sections that she had an idea for, but had not yet written.
With this book, as it is with comics on which I have collaborated with other artists, a balance between the words and the art must be struck. Originally, the sections in the book were much longer, but we both decided it was best to cut them down in order to more feature Nicole’s artwork. This was also helpful to me as a writer because vulgarities are very difficult to work with. The book is meant to be obscene, but there is a strong correlation between the frequency of the use of obscenities and how funny it is. That was our largest difficulty.
Have you ever worked with a medium other than writing? Or collaborated with someone in another medium with your writing?
I like to experiment with many different artistic formats. I attended MCCTC in high school for interactive multimedia and continued to use graphic design throughout my undergraduate years in YSU’s Professional and Technical Writing program. I still occasionally use these skills to produce document templates for my company, Derailed Tabletop Gaming. Additionally, I enjoy creating portraits with and Valentines oil pastels.
Though I don’t do it much anymore, I also enjoy the performing arts. I currently play Janet in a Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow cast, which is currently housed at Garrettsville Cinema. Other than Rocky, I have most recently played Elizabeth in Richard III and made an appearance as a zombie in the movie The Zombinator, which can be found for $5 at your local Walmart.
I am currently collaborating with local artists to create some books for publication. I am working with Nicole Emery as a co-author for her fully illustrated book How to be a Fucking Adult. The book should be coming out in the next year. Also, for the past few years, I have been working on a comic with Chris Kasmar. We are currently working on the first issue. More recently, I have been working on another comic with Nick Uroseva, who I also collaborate with on games through my company.
Are you a past Jenny contributor or an editor at a literary magazine and interested in an interview? Send us an email.