Friday Feature: Interview with Gwendolyn Edward
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 Gwendolyn Edward, a past contributor of Jenny Magazine and winner of Issue 8 Speculative Fiction Contest.
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?
My first publication was a short story about four years ago, “The Ballroom Beneath my House” in (now defunct) Scareship. I’d been an undergraduate in writing and thought I had it all figured out, but really I knew little about craft. It was a slipstream/horror piece about a ballroom that appears in the basement of my house and the ghosts that inhabit it, and it was not really a good piece of writing. I knew nothing about publishing at the time, but had happened across Scareship and liked the originality of the stories. What brought the piece together in the end was the attention of the editor, Rick Hollon, who saw something promising and asked me to revise for a more nuanced suspense. It was that detail to one aspect of craft that was exciting and that spark about revising not just the story, but the feel of the story was more exciting that being published. In a lot of ways I think my pieces that are successful today started with Rick years ago.
What inspired your piece in the Jenny?
I was at a point in my life where a lot of friends were opening up about the abuses they experienced as children and I was starting to see a pattern with how they created alternate histories and worlds to help them cope with trauma. This is, in essence, where “Mourning at the Lake of Impossible Trespass” stems from: how children process loss through the fantastical. I had a few editors tell me they liked the piece, but thought it sounded childish — which was the difficulty in this particular story. How does an author balance a child’s voice with the craft of an adult writer? I’m thankful to Jenny for picking this one up; it allowed me to find the story a home without compromising the roots of its exploration.
What got you into writing?
All the great writers from my formative pre-teen years — Marion Zimmer Bradley, Thomas Hardy, and Anne Rice to name a few. I’ve always loved stories, but these were the first authors who created entire other worlds and experiences to inhabit. But more than anyone else my parents who encouraged me to write even though it’s not exactly a financially feasible profession.
What do you like writing the most? Is there a certain style you prefer?
My academic concentration is nonfiction, which I love because it’s so challenging, but what I like to write the most is magical realism. In my writing career I’ve found this style to be not very well received by creative writing programs and kind of side-stepped in literature as well, which could simply be a result of the programs I’ve attended. I gravitate to this sub-genre in part due to the fantasy of childhood meeting the practicality and difficulty of adulthood; it’s an intersection that resonates with me. I think of Borges who is a founding father of the tradition and how complex his writing really is; the violence that this tradition emerges from is terrible and troubling but it remains submerged a bit in the fantasy. Perhaps what attracts me so much is the specific way magical realism allows freedom and complexity at the same time; I feel it provides layers of depth in a way I gravitate to.
What are your influences? Who are your favorite writers?
Oh gosh, this is a hard question. My influences — and excuse how broad this is — come from all genres. There are aspects of prose that can be used in poetry and aspects of poetry that can be used in prose. I think of Dillard’s essays and her obsessive attention to detail in nature and I think of Dickman and how his line breaks in poetry evolve the poem. The influences are not so much people, but craft elements: authors that are able to fight the expected, but carry me along the whole way. I think the greatest influence is that — works that resist the first instinct and that become more complex because of it.
There are so many amazing writers too. My favorite writers — as of today — are Borges, Jeanette Winterson, and Dan Simmons for fiction. These are the authors I find myself recommending more than anyone else, especially Borges’ “Shakespeare’s Memory,” which after four years I’m still reading and making new discoveries about, Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry, and Simmons’ Hyperion series.
What’s your proudest moment as an author?
I don’t have a proudest moment. I’m constantly reminded that writing and publishing is a process, one that does not have an end and that is constantly evolving. Maybe my proudest moment is understanding that, though I can’t say when I figured that out. I can’t say there’s an epitome or an end because for me there isn’t; it’s constant challenge and anxiety and discovery and I hope to never lose that.
How has your writing developed over time?
Definitely attention to craft has been the major development, but also not allowing craft to overwhelm a work. In academia there is all this “craft” talk, but trying to force craft can kill a piece of writing. The development over time comes in allowing a work to find its own balance between story and craft, and I struggle with it all the time. I work a piece to get it to the point where it becomes something unexpected for me; I push the writing to become something than what I initially envisioned, and then I have to ask the writing what it wants in terms of craft to compliment the narrative. Each piece has to become its own beast, and when I see that happening, I feel like real development has taken place.
Are you currently working on anything?
Oh yes, too many projects perhaps. Three essay collections, two books of short stories — one of which this Jenny piece is a part of — and some experimental novels. I have to work on a lot of things at once because I am a slow writer. If I worked on only one project it would never get done.
What’s your writing process?
In general it’s slow. I draft quickly, but then it takes months and sometimes years to get a piece to the “finished” stage. It depends on the piece really, though. Some stories come together in as little as a day and others take months. I revise more than I draft, but often the changes I end up making take an inordinate amount of time: changes at the paragraph level little by little interspersed with whole revision.
What are you currently reading?
Right now I’m reading Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings, Italo Calvino’s Six Memos, Anne Carson’s Nox, and perhaps even oddly, a lot of children’s books. I’m dying to get George Saunders’ The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip in the mail. I like the children’s books because of the concise language and illustrations. I don’t know why more adult books aren’t illustrated. It’s not like we ever grow out of art. So much of writing is imagining what people and places and action look like; it would make sense to represent this with both word and image.
Have you ever co-written something with another author? If so, what was that experience like?
I co-wrote a story with a friend a few years ago: “The House that did not Breathe” with Andrew Austin and published in Niteblade. We came up with the plot together, but then I actually wrote the piece. I love collaboration. It pushes me and gives rise to startling originality. I’m co-writing a book with my partner now, a short magical realism piece that (reference above) is more of an artist’s book; it’s meant to be an experience in reading, not just a story, and is very interactive. I think as long as I’m writing with someone who is on the same page — terrible pun — it’s a lot of fun. The plot takes paths I never expected and the voice that arises is new and different. There’s even joy at the level of discovering a co-authored syntax. I think it’s an exercise everyone should undertake at least once.
Have you ever worked with a medium other than writing? Or collaborated with someone in another medium with your writing?
I’m terrible at art and music. I have no talent. But I’m a big fan of ekphrasis — writing that is inspired by other art. I’m experimenting with it now — a chapbook of flash fiction based on Dali paintings. There’s a bit of an ethical quandary with it for me. Am I taking too much from someone else’s work? The key is letting the painting become a starting point, to not let the piece depend solely on it. I think in this way I work with a different medium — even if I’m not the one doing the painting it’s a still a type of participation/creation.
Are you a past Jenny contributor or an editor at a literary magazine and interested in an interview? Send us an email.