1.) When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
As a child I made up stories constantly—whether by play-acting with Thundercats action figures or sitting down at my mom’s electric typewriter until I used up all the ribbon. But by high school and my first year of college, I had largely set aside my own imaginative writings. My sophomore year I studied abroad in Australia, and I can only describe my time there as a spiritual awakening of sorts, the kind born from travel and spending time intensely with a congenial group of very different people. When I came back, I enrolled in my first creative writing workshop and within the first few classes, knew that this would be my path.
2.) What do you love most about the writing process?
I love experiencing this whole other reality, which is both a mirror of our world and a world unto itself, figuring out its limitations and how my characters are going to smack up against those walls. Each fictional world is its own pressure cooker, and there’s no excitement like witnessing what kinds of images are going to float up and carry meaning, and what kinds of characters are going to surprise you, disappoint you, make you laugh and cry.
3.) What do you love most about teaching writing?
I love when my students’ work surprises me–when I can tell a student has put her heart and soul into revising with attention and effort, and the story just soars. There’s nothing like sitting down with a revision, and to sit back and say, “She’s done it — this is so beautiful, and belongs in a magazine or a book.” Because a substantial part of that comes from talent and is a gift, but how many are willing to put the gift to work, for talent alone isn’t enough. A writer needs a certain sensibility about taking in feedback and criticism, about applying craft techniques (some of which aren’t so easy to master, by the way) but also keeping her vision in mind. As the years go on, I see myself more and more as a guide, there to assist others in discovering their own work habits, strengths, weaknesses, and visions, and how best to honor those.
4.) What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Stephen King’s The Stand, which, I kid you not, I started before news of the coronavirus pandemic broke out in Wuhan, China. I haven’t read much Stephen King (because I don’t like horror), but several readers had assured me that this was one of his best, most literary novels, with less horror elements than supernatural, so I decided to give it a go. So far, so good — a gripping story, and he certainly did his research from what I can tell.
5.) What’s your favorite writing quote?
It’s so simple, but I love this quote byAnton Chekhov, the 19th century Russian playwright and short story writer: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” When I’m stuck, I’ve got to always remind myself to return to the image, and the image will lead me where I need to go.
**Want to learn more from Vanessa? Take her Writing Speculative Fiction workshop, beginning Wednesday, May 13th!