Posts Categorized: Interview

Interview With 2020 Don Belton Prize Judge Charles Yu

The Don Belton Prize is open until June 30th! In this interview, IR talks with prize judge Charles Yu about his writing influences, humor, and what makes a great novel.

CHARLES YU is the author of four books, including the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, which was a New York Times Notable Book and named one of the best books of the year by Time magazine. He received the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35 Award and was nominated for two WGA awards for his work on the HBO series, Westworld. He has also written for upcoming shows on AMC and HBO. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in a number of publications including The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, and Wired. His latest book, Interior Chinatown, will be published by Pantheon in January 2020. Check it out here.

Lots of us have “writerly obsessions.” How do you think about returning to subjects & themes in your work?

My thinking on this has changed over time. At first, I didn’t even know I had obsessions. Then after I’d written a couple dozen things, I started to see patterns. It was: hmm, what’s going on here? A little bit like every morning I would set off on a walk, and then realize I always ended up at the same park. The obsessions didn’t go away. I started to worry. For a while, I tried to get away from my usual topics, thinking they were limitations or that I would burn out my readers and myself if I kept navigating the same territory. Then, more recently, I hit a new phase. I became comfortable with my obsessions. It’s not that I don’t want to continue to break new ground or try things. I definitely do. But my obsessions have been with me for so long now. I’ve invested in them, and they’ve invested in me. Writing is hard enough, and I think most writers are very lucky to get even a little bit of territory to which they can lay any kind of claim. My topics are my topics; they define me, and I’m grateful for them. And as I age, maybe I’ll even gain a new obsession or two, or a new perspective on the ones I have.

You’ve written short stories, TV episodes, novels, and more. Can you tell us how you think about genre & medium when you write?

The thing all of those genres and media have in common is they depend on character and story. So that comes first. Viable ideas don’t present themselves that often. So when one does peek its little head out of the dirt, I try not to scare it away with the tagging gun. I’ve got to coax it out of the ground, get it to emerge fully and show itself. Once I’ve got the idea firmly in grasp (although sometimes they still get away), I can try to think about what kind of story is this? What genre or form feels right to cage it? Have I taken this analogy too far? Maybe. 

As for TV vs. prose, I was and am a fiction writer first, so words are the material I am most comfortable with. Television is a visual medium, so I have to think in images. 

Many of us are struggling to do creative work right now. What’s been helping you think creatively lately, even if it doesn’t manifest as writing?

Walks. Reading. Finding ways to have less noise and more perspective. Not easy, though—at the time I’m writing these responses, I’m 94 days into lockdown. Somewhere around day 70, I started to feel a bit foggy. It’s been a struggle. I’m thankful to have had assignments in this time—nothing like the pressure of a deadline to focus the mind.

What do you look for in a good novel?

Voice. Which for me can come from one or many places: choices with diction or grammar or syntax that perturb and excite. A liminal space—feeling like I’m in an envelope of consciousness, a permeable barrier between my thoughts and the text. That might sound a bit obscure or elliptical. What I mean is I love novels where my mind melts into the minds of the characters, and vice versa. 

Any advice for aspiring satire writers out there?

Ha! No.

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Interview with 1/2 K Prize Judge Megan Giddings

Indiana Review will be accepting submissions to the 1/2 K Prize from July 1 to August 15, 2019. Final judge Megan Giddings will select a winner to receive $1000 publication. In an email interview, Indiana Review invites Megan to open up about flash fiction, her novel, and gibraltar. Discover more of Megan here: www.megangiddings.com.

Indiana Review: What does flash mean to you? What’s special about the genre?

Megan Giddings: I think flash is special because when done well it teaches, or at least reminds a writer and reader, how to distill a story into its most memorable parts. The language has to be well-chosen. You can’t get lost or meander; everything has to feel purposeful. Anything that’s not contributing can lose a reader.On a personal level, I don’t think I learned how to write remotely well, until I started writing flash. Before having a word limit, I had what I call a real case of the hi-hellos-what’s ups, my lines would be really repetitive. It would take me 15 pages to tell a 7 page story. Writing flash gave me the most important skill I think an aspiring writer can have: learn how to be your own relentless editor. 

IR: What’s the most refreshing image you’ve encountered lately?

MG: I’m currently working on a bigger project and for research, I’ve been reading different folk tales. One I keep coming back to is all the different variations of “Witch Hare” (I’m using this title but there are several variations). The element that stays the same is there is an old witch who can turn herself into a rabbit. Sometimes, she just dies. Sometimes, she pulls a lot of stunts that makes villagers mad. Sometimes in addition to those stunts, she gets in trouble for cursing a younger woman to spit pins. The last version I’ve been fixated on and is a plot point for the book I’m currently writing.Reading this response over,I don’t think I would call it refreshing, but it’s one my brain can’t let go of, it keeps opening more and more creative doors for me.

IR: What’s next for you? What’re you most excited for this year?

MG: Writing life, I’m working on my second novel. But what I’m actually most excited about this year is I’m becoming an aunt for the first time. I feel like one of my ideal adult forms is aunt who buys their nieces and nephews a lot of books and when they’re older gives them sage life advice while drinking a glass of red wine.

IR: You’re throwing a dinner party! Which artists, dead or alive, are you inviting?

MG: Prince, Octavia Butler, and my 90 year old Grandma.

IR: If your literary aesthetic was a food, what would it be?

MG: Do Drinks count? It would probably be a gibraltar (on the east coast, you generally call it a cortado, but I’m using gibraltar here because there are so many variations on cortados and my response might confuse someone based on that) where the barista makes like a heart or a leaf in the foam on top. It appears outwardly very cute, but beneath the soft sweetness is intense espresso. Through the magic of the right proportions of milk and foam, the gibraltar doesn’t stray into feeling overwhelming or into uncomfortable acidity. It’s balanced and complex.

Megan Giddings is a fiction editor at The Offing and a features editor at The Rumpus. Her flash fiction has been featured in Best of the Net 2018, Best Small Fictions 2016, Black Warrior Review, and Passages North among many other places. Megan’s debut novel, Lakewood, will be published by Amistad in 2020. More about her can be found at www.megangiddings.com

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Mirror Neurons: Interview with Nuar Alsadir

 

Indiana Review is accepting submissions to the Poetry Prize until March 31, 2019. Final judge Nuar Alsadir will select a winner to receive $1000 and publication. Hannah Kesling, our current Poetry Editor, chats with her about the genre, empathy, unconventional ways of “finding” poems. Listen to some of Alsadir’s work here: https://vimeo.com/283671638.

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“At the Center”: Interview with R.O. Kwon

 

Indiana Review is accepting submissions to the Fiction Prize until March 31, 2019. Final judge R.O. Kwon will select a winner to receive $1000 and publication. Soo Jin, our current Fiction Editor, asks her to talk about the “‘default’ gaze” of literary audiences, what she’s reading now, and a couple other things. Find out more about Kwon here: https://ro-kwon.com/

 

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“A Bridge to Some Other Possibility”: Interview with Bryan Borland & Seth Pennington

 

Indiana Review is accepting submissions to the 1/2 K Prize until August 15, 2018. Final judges Bryan Borland and Seth Pennington will select a winner to receive $1000 and publication. Essence London, who shares Arkansas with them as home, asks them to talk a bit about writers they love and collaboration and refreshing images. Though they are in conversation here primarily as editors, know too that they are writers and that you can find their latest work on their respective websites: bryanborland.com and sethpennington.com.

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