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?
Kathleen Crisci: When I have an idea for a story, I never know how it’s going to turn out or, even, what it’s really about. I tend to spill out my guts all over the page, and then go back and shape it. So I guess I’m chipping away at my story, although I never really thought of it that way. I don’t really know the story I’m trying to tell until I’ve cleaned up everything unnecessary to its core.
What was your first publication?
My story “Windows” was anthologized in DIRT: The Quirks, Habits, and Passions of Keeping House, edited by Mindy Lewis and published by Seal Press in 2009. That was exciting for me—to be published alongside of writers I was in awe of: Joyce Maynard, Louise DeSalvo, Ann Hood, not to mention those writers who also doubled as my mentors, Mindy Lewis and Thaddeus Rutkowski.
Five books you are reading or thinking about now?
I just finished The Door by Magda Szabo, which was such an incredible story on so many levels. Before that, I read Lila by Marilynne Robinson and Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, two very different kinds of writing but both equally mind-blowing. Now I’m reading some lovely stories by a debut writer, Mia Alvar: In the Country, and a great craft book by Robin Hemley: Turning Life into Fiction. Oh, and I’m just starting Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates.
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 love to be part of the crazy, dream-like world of Haruki Murakami—specifically the world of Toru Okada in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. I keep thinking of that character sitting in the dark at the bottom of a well in a strange alley where he was searching for his wife’s cat. It’s so mysterious, yet so compelling.
Most interesting day job you've had (from the perspective of a writer)?
I had a second job as a dog walker/cat sitter for several years. I loved walking into the apartments of people I barely knew—in a few cases, of people I’d never met—and seeing what books or CDs were on their bookshelves, whether they were hoarders or lived in sparsely decorated apartments, what kind of food they ate, etc. etc. I had a unique relationship with each of my clients, and they often left me lengthy notes and sometimes presents. It was quite nice, actually. I stopped doing it because I really don’t have the time anymore, and I’ve also gotten to hate walking dogs in inclement weather and the subsequent clean-up of muddy paws. When the down side of dog walking is actually walking the dog, you know it’s time to find something new.
Novels? Short stories? Which do you prefer to write?
I’ve been working on a novel for the past ten years or so. I can only sustain my attention on it for so long before I need to put it on the shelf and take a break. That’s when I write my shorter pieces. Whenever I get to a natural stopping point in an essay or a story—often the end—that goes on the shelf and the novel comes out again. At that point I can read what I’ve written with new eyes and then go on. Until it gets stashed again and the short piece reappears. I think I’m more involved with the novel because I’ve gotten to know the characters really well. But sometimes they frustrate me. At those times I prefer the newness of a shorter piece. Not to mention the more immediate gratification of an actual ending.
One sentence of advice regarding writing?
Write every day, even if you can only manage to do so for five minutes on a particular day or during a particular period, even if you can only eke out one sentence that you may later ditch or revise.
Your story title: was it your first choice?
No. The original title was Salvation. Boring, right?
In a nutshell, what are you working on now?
I’ve finished the second draft of my novel and am now making what I hope will amount to final changes on it. I’m also working on revisions to some of my stories that I think might work well together in a collection.
What's an interview question you've never been asked that you wish had been?
I’d prefer to provide you with an interview question I hope I’m never asked. But since that wasn’t the question, I won’t tell you.
Kathleen Crisci, a cofounder of and workshop leader at Uptown Writers, in northern Manhattan, received an MFA in nonfiction writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her story “Windows” was anthologized in DIRT: The Quirks, Habits, and Passions of Keeping House (Seal Press, 2009). Her work has appeared in Many Mountains Moving, Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood, Eleven Eleven, and The Westchester Review, and on Modern Love Rejects. She is currently working on a novel.