Interview with Lisa Taylor

Lisa Taylor will be on the panel titled She Did What? Weaving the Elements of Fiction into a Story. She was interviewed by Ellen Meeropol.

\"\"Why did you become a writer? When did the writing bug first bite you?

I began writing at age 12 (sixth grade). We had a poetry lesson in Miss Van Dyke’s class and I wrote a poem called The Storm. The last lines were: The storm was a menace/it made the ships tilt/but as for the sea/it felt no guilt. She put my poem up on the bulletin board and told me I was a poet. I continued to write regularly in my journal after that. I went on to win first prize regionally and nationally in the National Scholastic Writing Awards at age 17. It was another teacher, Mr. Lyons, who entered my poems in the contest. If not for these dedicated teachers encouraging me, I’m not sure I would have continued. I was late to publish and late to give my writing the energy it needed. In my last career (before adjunct work), I was a grant writer and writer-in-residence in schools. I also taught in the creative writing department of an arts magnet high school. I’m grateful every day that I made the decision to go back to school and get my MFA fourteen years ago. The mentors I had and the relationships I made continue to enrich my life.

For you, what’s the most rewarding part of being a writer? The most frustrating?

There is no feeling comparable to being in the “zone” or having a good writing day. I don’t believe in writer’s block but there are definitely days when words flow easily and days when it is a struggle. Writing is like breathing for me; I have to do it. The most frustrating part of being a writer is the marketing, submitting to magazines, and lining up events. I love doing readings, panels, or workshops; I just hate organizing them. I prefer to promote other writers. Those of us who publish with small presses take on a lot of the marketing. We do it because we believe that writing needs to be in the world and we want these literary presses to survive. I know my publisher (Arlen House) puts nearly everything back in the press so my success will ensure another worthy writer can be published.

How do you balance writing time, with the rest of your life? With political activism, the need to earn a living, the need to stay sane in a crazy world.

Finding time for writing is necessary. I’m in the process of developing a daily discipline after finishing the book, but activism, family obligations, and my teaching all take time. One thing that helps is to remind myself that writing is a form of activism. Words are powerful and they are one way we can move a culture forward.

At this year’s conference, you’ll be on the “She Did What? Weaving the Elements of Fiction into a Story” panel and will be focussing on plot. This is a craft element that many writers have trouble with. Can you explain to us how you approach plot in your stories?

I struggle with the idea of plot as somehow separate from character. In my fiction, plot is character. A character voice comes to me and I follow it down the road, into the coffee shop, or up the mountain. My process is all about character. If I cannot hear a character’s voice, I don’t have a story. I trust the character to reveal the complications of his or her life. Of course I throw obstacles in the path but only after I have developed the character voice. One rule I teach my students is that a character must somehow change by the end of the story. I also teach that emotional truth rules over literal truth – that is, it must feel authentic even if it is preposterous. Rising action, falling action, denouement, and resolution can be subtle. Some stories play out backwards. Some characters end up worse off because of the action of the story. What is important is that protagonists are altered in some way.

I’ve had the pleasure of reading your new collection of short stories. Tell us a bit about the collection, and about the title, IMPOSSIBLY SMALL SPACES.

IMPOSSIBLY SMALL SPACES was born out of the idea that many of us periodically find ourselves in tight spots, literally or figuratively. In the title story, Hildy locks a man in an airplane bathroom because he interrupts her while she is vaping. The confinement is symbolic of her emotional state, her feeling of being trapped in her life after her mother’s death from alcoholism. The varied characters that embody my stories often create obstacles for themselves or they rail against the obstacles imposed upon them by the world. In BABY ANGEL, a girl is chosen by a pre-adoptive family only to be returned when the supposedly infertile foster mother becomes pregnant. Enid displays lasting damage but also resilience, and humor. I am drawn to non-conforming characters and unconventional solutions to the problems they invite. I also fly a lot, which might explain why airplanes are featured in this collection.

You write both poetry and fiction. How do you decide what form an idea will take?

Currently I am dwelling exclusively in the world of fiction. Maybe it is the landscape of the country that has led me deeper into my imagination. I don’t go back and forth between fiction and poetry though I admire writers who can do this. Occasionally a situation will warrant a poem but that is rare these days. I do believe that my training in poetry has made me pay attention to detail, image, and metaphor. I also favor stories that open to a larger truth at the end. This probably comes from my love of poetry. I honor white space and believe that what you don’t say is important too.

What are you working on now?

I’ve returning to the novel I\’ve been working on for three years. It came out of a short story in my GROWING A NEW TAIL collection. I knew this character had a great deal more to say. I’m currently on the third draft of the novel. I continue to write short stories and I have also written creative nonfiction, mostly personal essays. A couple of these have been published in online magazines.

How can we find you online?

You can find me on Twitter @dreamingchange, Instagram, Facebook, or my website. I hope to see you at a reading or event.

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