Friday Feature: Interview with Olivia Buzzacco

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 Olivia Buzzacco, 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?

My first publication consisted of three pieces being taken for an issue of Prairie Margins, Bowling Green State University’s undergraduate literary magazine. Since I attended BGSU for my undergrad, I was encouraged to submit some of my work there during my junior year. They accepted two poems, “Karl” and “Colander” and a nonfiction piece titled “137.”

“Karl” is a five-line poem based off of a good friend of mine, who is as brilliant a writer as he is in the animation industry. “Colander” was produced from an in-class writing exercise one of my poetry instructors gave us, where we had to write about different shoes in different rooms. That poem also won “The Grandma Goda Award” for that issue. I was honored. “137” discusses a day in July at Cedar Point Amusement Park — I worked as a ride host for two years there, and while the park was tearing down Disaster Transport, the other rides experienced power bumps, where we would lose power suddenly, shutting the rides off, essentially.

So for my first time being published, I about lost my mind that three of my pieces were taken all at once. It was a big spirit booster for myself and my writing, since I still felt pretty new to the Creative Writing Program at BGSU, having switched my major only a couple semesters ago. This first publication really helped me to push myself further and submit to more places. Since then, I’ve had five more pieces accepted to different magazines. It’s a nice place to be in.

What inspired your piece in the Jenny?

Ah, “The International,” like “Colander,” was the result of a writing exercise in a fiction workshop. We had to write a postcard from one character to another character. I remember this exercise being given to us at the start of the spring semester, because I was on a big Elvis Presley kick at the time, as his birthday is January 8th. So I was in Elvis-mode, and began to write to a character that was based off of him. I loved my result from the exercise so much that I decided to write a story from it. I wrote “The International” in the span of a week, because we had to have our fiction pieces turned in the following week, and I remember wanting to turn that story in so bad, so I pushed myself to get it done. So Elvis was a big factor in this story for sure.

What got you into writing?

My older sister Ursula, actually. I have three siblings, and Ursula is the oldest. Whatever Ursula did, we followed suit. Seriously. She did band, we did band. She did drama club and speech, we did drama club and speech. Back when I was in middle school, she started writing her own stories, and she would share them with my siblings and I, and I remember loving them and wanting to try it out on my own.

And so I started writing terrible stories and me and my friends falling in love with our middle school crushes and everyone would die in the end. Horrible stuff, really. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I stopped writing stories and turned to poetry, since we were doing a poetry unit in class. I loved it, and from that moment on I considered myself a poet. When I started as a creative writing major at BGSU, I convinced myself that I would be a poet and that I couldn’t write short stores to save my life. It just seemed too difficult to me. There was no way I could fit a whole story into 10-15 pages. It’s funny now because I’m in the MFA program at BGSU where I’m focusing on fiction writing. I love it.

What do you like writing the most? Is there a certain style you prefer?

Well, I prefer to write fiction over poetry. But more specifically, I tend to write a lot of satire now. I like to create a normal, everyday world and stick something absurd in it and watch chaos ensue. You don’t see this in “The International” at all; I’ve only started this type of writing about a year ago. But so far, it’s been a lot of fun. I’ve noticed that I write a lot about parents and religion, but I’ve got some other ideas, like a marching band treated like the football team during a game day, and a first time teacher being treated like she’s at a press conference during parent-teacher conferences.

I think I was geared towards this writing style because I’ve learned to laugh more over the past couple years. As a kid, I hated being laughed at — and I don’t mean in a “haha we’re making fun of you” way, but you know, learning to laugh at myself when I fall down or have some bad luck. A lot of this changed during my junior year of high school. I discovered the old comedy duo Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and got super hooked. Jerry Lewis, as funny as this sounds, really opened me up to the world of humor and being able to bring in laughter and laugh at yourself. I wanted to be able to make people laugh, so that’s something I try for in my stories.

What are your influences? Who are your favorite writers?

So many hecking influences! Writer-wise, it’s mostly George Saunders. His stories are brilliant and hilarious. I think I’ve read the majority of his work. He’s a big influence on my writing. Following close behind is B.J. Novak — his story collection One More Thing also influenced a lot of my writing, in that idea of satire. Those two might be some of my favorite writers, alongside Stephen King and Salinger. I’m all over the board.

I’ve also been influenced a lot by some of my friends. Back in undergrad, I was influenced a lot by some of my peers in workshops — Zach, Brian, Alyssa-Jane, Hannah, and Natalie for sure. Every piece they brought to workshop had me in competitive mode, they were so great! Their stories always left me challenging myself to try harder and write something amazing for the next round of workshop. I honestly couldn’t have produced some of the stuff I have now without them, whether they know that or not.

What’s your proudest moment as an author?

During one of my workshops during my first year of grad school, I brought in a short piece called “Johanna Flies with the Umbrella Man,” about a young girl who struggles with her parents, religion, and her friends lives. One of the second-year grad students told me that my story was the funniest piece they had seen all semester in our 10-person workshop. I was super honored. Those second-year grad students were all brilliant writers, every one of them. I always looked up to them during that school year and for one of them to say that about my own work was amazing. I’ve worked with this story for a while now, and it was recently picked up by The Broken Plate, which is my second proudest moment as an author.  I’m really proud of that piece.

How has your writing developed over time?

It’s changed quite a bit. I didn’t really have a sense of direction in most of the stories I wrote during undergrad. I was going for a drama-aspect, but it wasn’t working for me. You could ask any of my creative writing friends from undergrad and they’d all say the same thing: “oh she’s the girl who wrote the story about the mom who cuts off her husband’s head and sticks it in Jeffrey Dahmer’s fridge!” That is a legit story I wrote. It wasn’t until the end of my first semester of grad school that my stories started taking a drastic turn to humor. I think I began to realize that my work wasn’t very focused and I had to start thinking about what my thesis theme was going to be, and I wasn’t finding that in the stories I had been writing. I produced two short pieces of satire, and they really took off and were well received by the other grad students and our instructor.

Are you currently working on anything?

Many things! So many things. I’m in the process of completing my thesis, which is a collection of short stories, so I have two stories in the process of being completed right now. I’ve got “What Happened to Zachary Taylor” almost completed, and another one called “Cornelia Takes the Cake” in the process of drafting. “What Happened to Zachary Taylor” is based off of a friend of mine who left the social media world suddenly, and this sparked many ideas for a story about three friends who try to literally find their friend Zachary Taylor after he deletes all of his social media accounts. It makes fun of kids and social media, really. It’s proving to be a lot of fun to write. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with “Cornelia Takes the Cake” just yet, but I’m hoping to have that one done by mid-February when our first thesis drafts are due.

What’s your writing process?

It varies, really, especially when it comes to ideas. Sometimes I’ll pull ideas from past experiences in my life, other times I’ll have an opening line in my head and I’ll write the rest of the story based off of that. But once I get an idea, I start writing, and planning the story out. I basically write an outline for my story of everything that is going to happen. I get stuck with the climax and endings a lot, so that’s where I usually begin to write down questions and present myself with different scenarios and directions the story could take. I find I write more when presented with a deadline, because then I feel like I’m working towards something, so that’s something I need to work on when I graduate this May.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished reading a collection of short stories by Wendell Mayo, who also works at BGSU in the creative writing department. I’ve had so many workshops with Wendell, and he’s helped my writing out a lot. His collection B. Horror was wonderful to read and gave me a lot to think about in my own work.

Have you ever worked with a medium other than writing? Or collaborated with someone in another medium with your writing?

Not yet, but this is something I would really like to do in my future. I have a couple ideas for some children’s books, and I’d love to work with an illustrator. I have some people in mind; it’s just a matter of graduating and starting my real world life.

Are you a past Jenny contributor or an editor at a literary magazine and interested in an interview? Send us an email.

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