INTERVIEW: Alison Espach Talks Kindle Singles, Her New Book, Teaching

Photo by Dave Bledsoe, FreeVerse Photography

Friend of Augury Alison Espach (The Adults, Scribner, 2011) is currently working on a new book, and she recently took the time to sit down with Augury assistant editor Nicolas Amara to talk about it, among other things.

Nick: If you’d like to say, what is your upcoming book about? What subjects does it deal with?

Alison: I would love to say, but every time I have talked about my upcoming book, I have ended up drastically changing what it’s actually about. Talking about the book too early had sort of demystified the subject matter for me and when I returned to the manuscript, I found myself wanting to write a different book. I’m really enjoying working on the book now, so just to be on the safe side, I’m going to shut up about it.

N: Do you see any parallels between The Adults and this new work? The Adults and your Kindle single, “Someone’s Uncle?”

A: I don’t think there is too much that’s similar about the new book, except the fact that I’m the author, which means there will, without a doubt, be some parallels I’m not aware of at the moment. I’m not referring to plot developments, but the kind of details and conversations I tend to focus on in my writing. Most of my writing falls within the space where the sacred meets the meaningless, and that results in a kind of absurdity, for better or for worse. An absurdity that was definitely present in The Adults and surely in the next book as well.

N: What was the experience of writing the single like? Did you already have this piece done or was it written specifically for Kindle?

A: I didn’t write the Kindle single to be a Kindle single. I just wrote it as a short story, so it was very much like the process of writing all of my short stories: I wrote a very bad skeleton version of the story, didn’t know what to do with it, forgot about it for almost two years, and then returned to it when I was frustrated with writing the novel. With two years of distance, I could see so clearly what was wrong with it. It was a rambling story that took place over the entire continent of Germany, and it had no frame or structure. That week, I had just been talking with my students about setting, and we had been looking at stories that were entirely contained in one physical space. I realized that was the kind of structural tension my story needed. I was most interested in the cathedral stairwell, the second tallest one in Europe, so the challenge of writing it became keeping the characters within that one space and to, ultimately, make it read like an infinite stairwell. It was a lot of fun to see who the characters became (and what was revealed) by the time they reached the bell tower.

N: You’re now teaching writing–what is your approach to teaching? How does one teach writing? How much of it can be taught?

A: I certainly think you can teach writing. I don’t think the point of teaching writing is to create writers out of non-writers; that’s a kind of pressure I don’t put on myself as a teacher. But I do believe that everybody can learn a lot from taking writing classes.

Sometimes people devalue creative writing classes by saying that creative writing cannot be taught, but I think that this assumes the creative writing class is all about “teaching” someone how to write. It’s not like I stand behind a podium and lecture, while they sit and absorb. A creative writing class doesn’t work like that. We all read, we all edit, we all talk, we all write, and we all listen. Yes, it’s the professor that guides the class and serves as a very important kind of anchor, but it’s really more of an interactive experience.

And creative writing classes aren’t just a place to teach and be taught; for many people, the classes are places where students can find necessary support from fellow writers and inspiration. They are places where students can benefit from the structure of a weekly meeting or a writing prompt in class. For some students, the twenty-minute writing prompt is where their real stories begin. The spontaneity of a writing exercise can eliminate some of the pressure students feel to write “serious literary fiction,” and it’s during those prompts when I find students often write their best work.

Some people say that “you can’t teach passion” either, and while that’s true to some extent, I do think that as a teacher you can aid passion. When I’m not reading, I’m always at risk of falling out of love with literature. When I’m not reading carefully, I’m missing the magnificence of something. I learned how to read critically and actively from some of my best professors and fellow graduate students. When I can fully see and appreciate a story (something that usually happens most when I teach a story), I’m passionate about it. So in that way, I think maybe you can teach passion.

Though Espach continues to work on her new book, her Kindle single “Someone’s Uncle” is available online for only 99 cents. Both “Someone’s Uncle” and The Adults can be purchased from Simon & Schuster.

Our readers for the Augury Books & Friends Offsite AWP Reading

We’re so excited for the upcoming Augury Books & Friends offsite AWP reading/shindig in Seattle. We have a great list of readers (see below), each of whom will read briefly and then we will make new friends and maybe even fall in love during the post-reading mingling. The reading will be at Noble Neon, 3130 Airport Way S this Friday, February 28th from 7:30 until we all feel like going back to our hotels.  If you’ll be in Seattle, please join us!

Photo by Dave Bledsoe of FreeVerse Photography

Our readers (in alphabetical order) will be:

Maureen Alsop, author of MANTIC (Augury Books, 2012), has new poems appearing at Watershed Review, Citron Review and ditch.

Halina Duraj‘s stories have appeared in The Sun, The Harvard Review, FictionWitness, and other journals. She has an MA in creative writing from the University of California, Davis, and a PhD in literature and creative writing from the University of Utah. In 2012, she was a writer-in-residence at Hedgebrook, a women’s writing retreat on Whidbey Island, WA. She teaches at the University of San Diego, where she also directs the Lindsay J. Cropper Center for Creative Writing. She is the author of THE FAMILY CANNON (Augury Books, 2014), now available.

Alison Espach is the author of The Adults, a New York Times Editor’s Choice, a Wall Street Journal Top 10 Novel of the Year, and a “Barnes and Nobel Discover Great Writers” pick. Her other writing can be found in McSweeney’s, Five Chapters, Salon, The Daily Beast, Glamour, Writer’s Digest and other journals. Her short story “Someone’s Uncle” is available as an e-book through Scribner.

Lia Hall writes in neon. She co-founded Noble Neon illuminating words and shapes with noble gases. She teaches yoga and lives in the Old Rainier Brewery in Seattle. She received her MFA in Poetry at the New School in 2009.

Lauren Hunter is from North Carolina and lives in Brooklyn. She received her MFA in poetry from The New School and works with the team at Telephone Books as their Managing Editor. Lauren is the co-founder/curator of the Electric Pumas, a reading series/revolution in New York City. Her chapbook, My Own Fires, was released by Brothel Books in 2011.

Cynthia Lowen is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, and poet, and author of The Cloud That Contained the Lightning, winner of the 2012 National Poetry Series selected by Nikky Finney. Cynthia is the recipient of the 2013 Women Authoring Change Fellowship from William Morris Entertainment, the DuPont-Columbia University Awards for Excellence in Journalism, and the Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Prize, as well as residencies to The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Hedgebrook, and Yaddo, among others. Cynthia is also the producer and writer of BULLY, a feature documentary film following five kids and families through “a year in the life” of America’s bullying crisis, which was released in theaters worldwide by The Weinstein Company. She lives in New York City.

Karyna McGlynn is the author of I Have to Go Back to 1994 and Kill a Girl, winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize from Sarabande Books, as well as two chapbooks. Her poems have recently appeared in Ploughshares, The Literary Review, Seattle Review, West Branch, Subtropics, and The Academy of American Poet’s Poem-A-Day. Karyna received her MFA from the University of Michigan, and is currently a PhD candidate in Literature & Creative Writing at the University of Houston. She is the Managing Editor of Gulf Coast and coordinator for the Houston Indie Book Fest and Gulf Coast Reading Series.

Patrick Moran is a 1995 graduate of the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. He is the author of four books of poetry, Tell A Pitiful Story, (MWPH, 2011), Doppelgangster (Main Street Rag Press, 2012), THE BOOK OF LOST THINGS, (Augury Books 2012), Rumors of Organized Crime, Poems & Plays’ 2013 Tennessee Chapbook Prize winner. He is also the author of “The Ampersand: Casual Vortex or Engraver’s Shortcut,” which appeared in the 2013 September issue of The Writer’s Chronicle. His poems and translations have appeared in many journals including the New Republic, The Antioch Review, The Prairie Schooner, The Southern Review and The Boston Review. He is currently an associate professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.  His lives in Fort Atkinson, WI with his wife, the painter Bethann Moran, and their three children.

Frances Justine Post is the recipient of the “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Prize, the Inprint Paul Verlaine Poetry Prize, and the Amy Award from Poets & Writers. Her poems have appeared in American Letters & CommentaryBoston Review, Denver QuarterlyThe Kenyon Review Online, The Massachusetts ReviewPleiadesWestern Humanities Review, and others. Originally from Sullivan’s Island, SC, she received her MFA from Columbia University and is currently earning her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Houston, where she is poetry editor for Gulf Coast Magazine. She is the author of BEAST (Augury Books, 2014), now available.

Alicia Jo Rabins is a poet and musician currently based in Portland, OR. Her work appears in American Poetry Review, 6×6, Boston Review, Court Green, Ploughshares and The Collagist.  She tours internationally with her band, Girls in Trouble, a song cycle about the complicated lives of Biblical women, and has performed fiddle music across Central America and Kuwait. Residencies and scholarships include Bread Loaf Writers Conference, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and Bucknell Seminar for Younger Poets

Camille Rankine is the author of Slow Dance with Trip Wire, selected by Cornelius Eady for the Poetry Society of America’s 2010 New York Chapbook Fellowship. The recipient of a 2010 “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, her poetry has appeared in numerous journals, including American Poet, The Baffler, Boston Review, Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, Octopus, Paper Darts, and  Tin House. She was selected for a MacDowell Colony Fellowship in 2013, and was named an Honorary Cave Canem Fellow in 2012. She is Assistant Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Manhattanville College, Editorial Director of The Manhattanville Review, and lives in New York City.

Diana Spechler is the author of the novels Who by Fire (Harper Perennial, 2008) and Skinny (Harper Perennial, 2011). Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Slate, Salon, O The Oprah Magazine, CNN Living, Paris Review, GQ, Esquire, Glimmer Train Stories, and Southern Review, among other publications; as well as in a number of anthologies, including, most recently, Sex Matters: The Sexuality and Society Reader (W.W. Norton, 2013) and True Tales of Lust and Love (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, 2014). She is the recipient of an MFA degree from the University of Montana, a Steinbeck Fellowship from San Jose State University, a LABA Fellowship from the 14th Street Y, residencies from the Anderson Center and Portsmouth Abbey School, and a fellowship from the Sozopol Fiction Seminars. She is also a six-time Moth StorySLAM winner whose stories have been featured on The Moth podcast and The Moth Radio Hour.