As all at CCNE anxiously await the arrival of author Mary Gaitskill, no two are more eager than Seniors Kristen Koczarski and Marie Stern. Both look forward to work shopping their own writing with Gaitskill, and Koczarski will enjoy the pleasure of reading with the author she has admired for three years. Before their big day, SO Good interviews Kristen and Marie.
1. What was it in Gaitskill’s work that drew you to it?
K: I first read Bad Behavior as a freshman in my fiction class and was immediately drawn in by her casual treatment of such powerful subject matter. Her ability to capture the intensely personal aspects of her characters got me completely hooked.
M: I love the way her descriptions are filled with lush imagery without knocking you over the head with what she’s trying to say. Her subtlety of characterization, too. There’s something really beautiful about the complexity of her characters and the many levels they affect and are affected.
2. Have you found trends in your writing that are influences of Gaitskill? (Examples?)
K: I do know that she has been a huge influence on my work, especially in my courage to write about subjects I may have been too nervous to in the past, such as prostitution, porn, and my own involvement in the BDSM scene. Her characterization in Two Girls, Fat and Thin really drove me to want to dig in deep into my own characters' past and psychology.
M: I love the way she uses sexual undertones and sexuality to define and understand her characters, as well as the way it is used in her stories to get at deeper, very different issues. I strive to do that in a way. Also, her use of metaphor (especially in Veronica) is something I’ve used as an example for myself.
3. What are some trends in your work that differ from Gaitskill’s?
K: It's much better than mine? I think my work tends to involve more dark humor, I suppose.
M: Everything else? I’m not sure how to answer this one. Her work is amazing and I’m still just a student – so obviously her work is tremendously better. I guess I’m not really able to achieve the level of subtle removed-ness from my characters that she achieves in some of her short stories, and that’s one thing that stands out to me.
4. What was your immediate reaction when you learned you were to be reading/work shopping with one of your favorite authors?
K: be completely honest, my initial reaction was, I can't do this, I'd pee myself. It's a huge honor, one that I have a hard time believing I warrant. After having a month or so to think on it, I'm still nervous. Gaitskill has been my favorite fiction writer and a sort of idol for me since I first encountered her work three years ago and the idea of just meeting her is nerve racking- let alone opening for her reading. I'm excited to be sure; I just hope I don't have a heart attack.
M: When I heard I was going to be work-shopped by her, I believe my immediate reaction was “Oh shit, really? Are you kidding?” I’m totally excited - it’s such a great opportunity and I’m psyched and nervous as hell. Nervous is key. Very nervous.
5. Who are you other influences, or who are you reading currently?
K: My other biggest influence is definitely Edward Abbey, and I'm partial to Raymond Carver, Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, and Michelle Tea.
M: The answer to this one changes all the time, but right now I’m reading a lot of William Faulkner, Don Delillo, and Thomas Pynchon. I also really love Maxine Hong Kingston, Sherman Alexi, and Raymond Carver. But my influences hardly stop at fiction (or memoir as the case my be) – I also read a lot of philosophy (my favorites are Michel Foucault and Jaques Derrida) and academic work, which I enjoy immensely, and inevitably gets filtered into my writing as well. Oh, and I’m madly in love LOVE with Mark Z. Danielewski. He gets put at the top of the list.
6. What work will you be reading/work shopping?
K: I'll be reading a small excerpt from a larger piece of nonfiction about my plans to climb a mountain and short story called Red Eye, both of which I wrote last semester.
M: I actually wrote a new piece – a short story called Confidence Men about a pair of Gypsies who pull con jobs.
7. How/why did you choose that particular work?
K: The nonfiction piece shows where I'm going in my work at the moment, and Red Eye is my most recent piece of fiction that is closest to being done.
M: I chose to write a new piece because, well, it’s still for a workshop class, and I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to have such a great writer look at some of my work and give me advice while it’s still in its earlier stages. It’s not exactly a first draft (I’m certainly happy with it), but it’s hasn’t been through several revisions yet either, and I didn’t want to hand in something I felt didn’t need a lot of work. It’s a good story, but the workshop is about finding and honing potential, so I wanted to take advantage of that.
8. What are some of your habits good/bad within your writing process?
K: I have to write things out by hand first. I don't know if that's good or bad- both I think. I can't get my thoughts together on a computer so I go back to pen and paper, and then when I do type it out, it goes through a quick revision in the typing process. So that's a plus, but writing it out is really time consuming and hard on my hands. Also my handwriting is practically illegible, even to me, which frequently becomes a problem.
M: Bourbon is probably the worst habit. Haha! But it’s the most fun! Honestly, the best thing for me to do is constantly read and re-read what I’ve written so far, and read it aloud. I always have to stop and read aloud, so I can get a sense of what sounds natural. Also, I always work to music – I like to imagine what the soundtrack to this story would sound like, and I pick music that suits the mood. I find it ridiculously inspiring.
9. How have you seen yourself grow as a writer through your years at CCNE?
K: I don't want to even think about what I first wrote in Intro to Fiction Writing. I sure hope I've come a long way since then. I've learned a great deal about subtlety, subtext, and probably most importantly, I've been exposed to many incredible authors from which I can draw inspiration.
M: I’ve improved so, so much over the years. It’s ridiculous looking back at some of the first things I wrote while I was here, and how bad they seem. Most importantly, I think I’ve grown to realize the importance of revision. And craft, too: how to really choose your words so they do the work, how to create complex, subtle characters, and how to experiment in form. Also, I’ve been exposed to so many great authors and books – and as a writer, I know that the more I read, the better my work is going to be.
10. What message have you learned from this opportunity (the reading) that you would like to share with other readers/writers?
K: I feel like I'll better be able to answer that one next week. I guess I can say, great opportunities always bring anxiety, but they're worth it.
M: Can I get back to you on that after the workshop?