In “Mourning Palace Release” (Issue 5), Gwendolyn Edward narrates a chilling moment full of palpable danger. In the following interview, Edward explores her artistic expression, influences, and methods of beating creative blocks.
A nonfiction, poetry, and fiction writer, Gwendolyn Edward enjoys writing prose that challenges genre form and convention because she likes to pick fights with editors. Her nonfiction has appeared in Crab Orchard Review, The Citron Review, and Vine Leaves, among others. She received her MA in Creative Writing from the University of North Texas, and she is currently pursuing a MFA at Bennington. She works with Fifth Wednesday Journal as an assistant nonfiction editor.
How would you characterize your creative process as you worked on this piece? Slow and frustrating. It began as a poem, and for close to three years it stayed in poetic format. It look a long time for me to realize this wanted to be a lyric prose piece, but when I did, it came together quickly. So perhaps I could also characterize it at the end as being relief as well.
What writing or other artistic expression has had a profound impact on your writing? Why? Music has always played a part in my writing, but in a way I only recently began paying greater attention too. I listen to a fair amount of heavy metal: not exactly peaceful or calming music. Not music to write by for the type of writing I usually do. But the bands I listen to (Scar Symmetry, Ne Obliviscaris, Beyond Creation, and Wintersun among others) are very technically complicated. I prefer to meditate on the individual components of the compositions: orchestrations, complicated guitar riffs, jazzy bass lines. These parts of the whole help me envision important individual aspects of the creative writing process like narrative voice, momentum of a piece, seeing the piece as fragments that can find cohesion, etc.
Where do you create? Tell us about your workspace. I tend to work strictly outside. I have a fabulous screened-in back porch that looks out over my yard, and in the nicer months I’ll spend entire days on it writing and revising. I can’t write inside or at coffee shops; I envy friends who can sit down and work anywhere. Sometimes I can work at an outside bar, but that’s about it. It’s also important that when I’m writing in an outdoor space I have something to consume: coffee, beer, flavored water. I can’t have one without the other.
Who has been influential in your writing/creative work? Why? Jenny Boully and Elissa Washuta have been significant influences in the way I view non-fiction writing. Both are willing to push genre boundaries and experiment with the concepts of what non-fiction entails and what it excludes; they’re very meta. But I like traditional authors too: Annie Dillard and Philip Lopate, Sven Birkerts and Loren Eisley. And of course my friends. I’m very lucky to have such a great group of writers that I get to spend time with. I admire the work of my friend and poet Kara Dorris and the prose of my partner Kyle Paradice. When I read their work it always makes me strive for more depth and quality in my own.
What do you do to help yourself get over a creative block? I wait, try to pay attention to whether or not I’m writing in a vacuum, and at times I’ll read and write in genres other than the one I’m stuck in. Most of the time I find that I’ve separated myself from aspects of the creative process because of work or general life obligations. I have to force myself to visit museums or read about history and science. When I start to encounter new things and concepts, something always strikes me to break down that mental wall, but I have to be active about it.
You mention that to get over a creative block, you’ll read and write in genres other than the one you’re stuck in. What is your favorite genre to read? and write? When I’m stuck in non-fiction I’ll usually go to fiction, science fiction and fantasy, but I like to read short stories because I can finish them easily and put them down and pick them up without feeling too guilty about the time I spend with them. I also like to read young adult and children’s lit; I don’t have to think too hard about the plot or meaning or craft elements. Sometimes I think grad school asks students to examine texts too much. The habit of analysis is one that’s hard for me to break unless there’s not too much to actually analyze. So for fiction I’ll read back issues of Asimovs or Lightspeed or anthologies of genre work. If I’m stuck in fiction, I’ll usually read poetry. Laura Kasischke and Carl Phillps always resonate with me. Lately I’ve discovered Angie Estes and her poetry is so full of wonderful references that I end up always reading some non-fiction history as well. Edward Hirsch said that, when he taught at Houston, they had prose students study poetry and poetry students study prose—genres all have important elements that inform each other. I’m a big proponent of this idea which is why I write in non-fiction, fiction, and poetry. There’s always something to discover about a genre and its writing that spills over into other genres.
This may be a rather abstract question, but you discuss your fascination with colors in art. If your piece for Proximity was a painting, what colors do you think it would contain? If this piece was a form of visual art, I can’t speculate much about what it would actually look like, but I think I could say something about color and texture. I picture it kind of an aesthetic disaster, hurried and fractured. I think it would have to be an oil painting, thick and kind of messy. The paint would lumpy in some places, definitely not smooth and worked out as the lines of bristles in the brush would be visible. As for color, I think russet, vermillion, cream, ochre, amber, goldrenrod, and tones of brown in the hotel room. Outside the window a stark, almost discordant scheme, blue almost the color of dark purple but accented with the same yellows in the room. The contrast seems expected to me, but the way I’d justify it is by saying dichotomy and paradox are part of the human condition and sometimes just need to really be represented the way they are experienced.
We asked Gwendolyn to dip into the “Proust Questionnaire” and select a few fun (less writing-related) questions to answer. This probing set of questions originated as a 19th-century parlor game popularized by contemporaries of Marcel Proust, the French essayist and novelist, who believed that an individual’s answers reveal his or her true nature.
If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be? I’d come back as a squirrel, and a squirrel where there aren’t cars around. Or honey badger. But most likely squirrel. I had a pet squirrel for a year and a half; I rescued her before her tail got bushy and watched her grow and she was so full of energy and curiosity while still being very primal. I wish we had the leniency to be more primal at times; all this rational thought becomes quite draining. I wonder what it would be like to have my physiology truly governed by weather and the seasons and what it would be like to not need companionship. Typing that last sentence makes me feel rather nihilistic, but if I were a squirrel I wouldn’t be capable of that worry, which I guess is my point. Plus I love nuts and trees.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse? “You may or may not know….” I say this all the time in a joking context, because whatever comes next is most certainly known to the person with whom I’m speaking. I suppose I tend to use the phrase when I’m self-conscious about what I’m about to voice; it’s some type of entry for disclosure. But I also use it when I make up ridiculous facts, which I try to do often because absurdity is my coping mechanism for all the suffering and mean things I see going on in the world. There has to be respite somewhere, and I find it in a lot of different aspects of creation.
Which talent would you most like to have? If only I had some artistic ability. Painting. Drawing. I love the older children’s books I have back when watercolors were part of the illustrative process. I can’t even draw a decent stick figure. It’s incredibly disheartening. I gravitate to colors in general and how they are used in art and movies to make direct and indirect arguments about what’s going on. I think ekphrasis is the closest I’ll ever come to being able to participate in the more visual arts. I have novella length fiction works that come from Dali and Bosch paintings. I’m very close to those pieces because I want so desperately to be able to paint like them.
Who is your hero of fiction? Hero IN fiction would be more like it. I’m very attracted to the sympathetic bad guy or to the tragic hero. Satan in Paradise Lost is at the top of my list because when I read the poem in high school it was the first time I realized the bad guy could be something more than a stereotype. I like having to question my values. As a reader I like to be tricked as long as that trick is set up well. I find value in exploring multiple viewpoints, so to learn something about how people and characters become what they are, to either alleviate blame or to understand why something happens, really changes and adds to my understanding in the world.
What is your motto? “Make gains, not babies.” Let me tell you, the most annoying thing about training to be a bodybuilder and training at the gym is when a child escapes from the daycare and makes its chaotic way into the weight room.
This interview was curated by Erika Williams, Proximity‘s Interview Series Coordinator and a creative writing student at Ohio University.