Annalise Mabe on “The Spies”

Annalise Mabe | Issue 6

Annalise Mabe | Issue 6

Curiosity and observation frame this piece of flash nonfiction as an argument unfolds in “The Spies” (Issue 6). In the following interview, Mabe discusses the prompt for her piece, writing by hand, and her hero of fiction.

Annalise Mabe works in nonfiction, poetry, and comics while pursuing an MFA at the University of South Florida. Her work has been published in Crab Fat, has been featured in ZO’s Poetry Exposé, and is forthcoming in Cahoots. She reads for Sweet Lit Magazine and is constantly crafting various pieces of her own. Like tapas, she likes to try everything. She lives in old Seminole Heights with her boyfriend, Kevin, and her cat, Moose.


What inspired you to create this piece? I was exploring the early memories of my parents’ separation when I was prompted to write this piece. It’s my earliest and possibly only memory of my parents fighting. This piece was originally part of a larger, more cohesive work that explored my parents’ failed relationship and my own troubled relationships as I grew up.

How would you characterize your creative process as you worked on this piece? (ex: fast and furious, slow brew, fits and starts) I wrote and rewrote this piece by hand. Heather Sellers says that writing by hand allows you to work slower, and that the slowest way is the fastest way. I can vouch for this process.

Where do you create? Tell us about your workspace. My workspace is inconsistent. I’m very impulsive, so if I’m out and the thought comes to me, I will stop walking to pull up a Note on my phone and start typing the story out whilel passersby are shoving past me. Other times, I sit on the floor, at my desk, in my bed. I like to be comfortable and I prefer to handwrite when I’m translating those notes into fully scened stories.

Who has been influential in your writing/creative work? Why? Marion Winik, Abigail Thomas, and Sarah Manguso have been influential to my creative work as each captivates with stunning detail and precision. Winik and Thomas have inspired me to pursue flash nonfiction as a major form of writing while Sarah Manguso’s Elegy and The Two Kinds of Decay have shown me how to write about death, loss, and illness with a distinct tone and voice. Most recently I’ve been inspired by Kevin Sampsell’s A Common Pornography, a memoir comprised of flash nonfiction pieces that are arranged as snapshot fragments that tell his coming of age story. This book has impacted my recent writing as I’ve been inspired to work with shorter forms for my own stories.

What do you do to help yourself get over a creative block? I sit down, open a journal, and write the date, the time, and the location. I start writing through the day’s events, aware that they’re mundane. Soon enough, I’m writing on something that I’ve been subconsciously mulling over, and I’m able to flesh this out and come to terms with it. Writing by hand helps me creatively, but also helps therapeutically as the physical practice will often pull out brewing thoughts that I’ve been avoiding or unaware of.

What living writer would you recommend other nonfiction writers read? What titles in particular? Why?  Heather Sellers: I’ll Never Bother You Again, Sparky, In Graves with My Student Elizabeth, and her memoir You Don’t Look Like Anyone I Know. All of her work, she’s an incredible writer. The first three recommendations are short pieces that showcase her tightly crafted scene and storytelling skills. Her memoir is illuminating, funny, and poignant. When you’re reading these pieces, you won’t put them down. I mean it. No snack breaks, no bathroom breaks; you are in these stories and you don’t want to leave for a second.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about this piece, in particular, or about your creative process, in general? (No, not really).


We asked Annalise 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? An ocelot. Preferably Dali’s (Babou).

Which talent would you most like to have? It would be really helpful if I was gifted in math. But then, maybe I wouldn’t be doing this.

Who is your hero of fiction? Humbert Humbert. I know, I know, he’s sick. But he’s convinced me, so strategically, to feel sorry for him, which I think has to win some award. Otherwise, Edna Pontellier. She wins.

What is your current state of mind? Determined (to finish my to do list).

What is your motto? Keep writing out the bad. My dad used to tell me this, and I see it both ways. He meant that you’ve got to write out the bad writing to get to the good writing. I agree with this, but I also think you’ve got to write out the bad, or what’s eating at you.

You mention many times writing being therapeutic and that you need to “write out the bad.” Do you think that writing this piece helped you at all mentally?  Yes, I think it did help me therapeutically. The divorce happened when I was young and we didn’t talk about why as we grew up, so this was a way for me to go back to the beginning and put things together.

Can you elaborate on why Humbert Humbert is your hero of fiction? You say he is sick but you still feel bad for him, why would you say that is? I think I have to change my answer. He’s manipulative and crafty, so he’s actually more of a villain… Edna Pontellier wins. She escapes the social confines of her time.

This interview was curated by Erika Williams, Proximity‘s Interview Series Coordinator and a creative writing student at Ohio University.

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