Epiphany: William Trevor began his adult life as a sculptor and later described his writing as chipping away at a block of marble. Are you a chipper or a builder? In other words do you chip away at a block of writing, or are you more methodical, building up the block brick by brick?
Katharine Schifani: I’ve alternately heard Stephanie Vaughn describe the process as either being a swooper or a basher. Swoopers swoop in and write a whole bunch at once and then go back and tweak it. Bashers bash out one sentence at a time until it’s the way they want it. In those terms, I’m definitely a swooper.
What was your first publication?
An essay called “Pistol Whip” in the Iowa Review that won the Jeff Sharlet Memorial Award for Veteran. Unless you count the self-published book about my dog getting a white convertible and driving me to Dairy Queen that I wrote when I was bout 6. In that case, “The Adventures of Rocky” was first.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
The Undertaking, Thomas Lynch, I’d Walk With My Friends If I Could Find Them, Jesse Goolsby, A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway, The Four Quartets, T.S. Eliot, and Something Impossible Happens by M.K. Sukach
If you had to inhabit a fictional world, what would it be (i.e., the environment of which novel or short story or poem)?
I would say the Glen Canyon of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, before the Glen Canyon Dam flooded it (Powell’s river would be great too). This isn’t so much fiction as it is the past, but Glen Canyon is one of the things in the world I wish I could have seen.
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
My time as a counterterrorism advisor in Iraq with to Green Berets. It’ll be hard for anything to beat that, but mountain guiding is giving it a good run!
Novels? Short stories? Which do you prefer to write?
Essays. Fiction sounds really hard, and a novel seems nearly impossible. I write what I know and I try to share the lens through which I know it.
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
Try to write one good sentence every day. (That sentence was not it, but it has been the most helpful thing for me so far).
Your story title: was it your first choice?
No, actually I had something different mostly as a placeholder so I know what the essay was when I saved it on my computer. A few other of my good readers suggested I change it, but I didn’t. When Kristin picked my essay, she also suggested I change it and I finally had a good idea of what the essay was really about, so I felt better about giving it its current title.
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
Two things: a collection of my war essays and a project about working and loving the landscapes of the American west.
What's an interview question you've never been asked that you wish had been?
What is your favorite type of snowflake?