stephanie dickinson

Interview with Stephanie Dickinson
Date: Saturday, March 7, 2009 at 04:26PM

Fiction writer Stephanie Dickinson answered a few questions for me after I read her stunning short story "A Hole in the Soup" in the Spring 2009 issue of Glimmer Train.

Can you tell us where that story ("A Hole in the Soup") came from and how many incarnations it went through to get to its present vibrant form?

Before coming to New York I lived in New Orleans and that city made a profound impression on me with its atmosphere of a backwards clock. I took long walks in the humidity where you felt as if you were wading into time past. For about five years I’ve been working on Memory and Bluejay. The novel’s first incarnation was complete when Katrina struck. Months later I showed it to an agent who’d written me after seeing a story I’d published in Cream City Review. He suggested I introduce the storm. “No one will buy a book that takes place before Katrina,” he said. I questioned whether I had a right to the material since I did not suffer the storm personally. But writers are sensitive to the planet’s great cataclysms as well as its pleasures. I began weaving (or forcing) the hurricane into Memory and Bluejay. “A Hole in the Soup” comes from all that writing and rewriting. Mace, one of the story’s characters, was cut from the novel, and then ended up in Charity Hospital where “A Hole in the Soup” takes place. I didn’t want to waste him so I thought of a story he might enter.

You have an unusual metaphoric turn of mind. I always think the best metaphors rise up through our minds to consciousness like fish out of water. You latch on. Do you find yourself with more metaphors than you can use? Do you write them intuitively and then have to weed them out?

I tend to write metaphors intuitively, use too many, and have to cut back on them. It is what the skin sees and the eyes hear. The mind becomes fertile and interesting through reading and thinking and staring into space. But it is the life energy, the miraculous force animating creation that provides the writer with metaphors. The images come and like dreams inhabit us. Dreams must enter animals, trees, stones. Sometimes reading one of my stories long after its composition I wonder who wrote that sentence, those paragraphs. Metaphors fill and the writer is the impure vessel for whatever it is. The richness.

Is all of your published work from small presses? If so, please comment on how you have fared in the small press world. Do you have loyalties to it?

I’ve published fairly widely in the literary magazines. The contributor copies add up and yet there’s been little else beside those copies to show for a good deal of effort. This is likely true for many writers seeking audience and exposure in the journals. There’s an abundance of fine editors and scintillating writing in the pages of the small presses. There’s also obscurity. Yes, I fear the audience being reached is miniscule. Often contributors don’t read the magazines they appear in and I’ve been guilty of that. Together with Rob Cook, I edit Skidrow Penthouse. ( It’s an eclectic read that includes an entire poetry collection within most issues. Recently, we’ve begun a publishing collective, Rain Mountain Press. ( The monies come from what I can skim off my day job, so we’re limited in what we can publish. There is pleasure in the thing itself. And then last year my novel Half Girl was published by Spuyten Duyvil.

How much effort do you put into marketing your work? And what have you found to be particularly successful in regard to building a wider audience for your work?

This leads to the question you’ve asked that I’m most conflicted about. How much effort do you put into marketing your work? Enough to be wary of it, enough to know a writer can drown it. To promote my recently published novel Half Girl, which won the 2002 Hackney Award (Birmingham-Southern) for best unpublished novel of the year, I’ve done readings, I developed an author website, and I’ve put much effort into sending review copies to journals I’ve published in. I’ve tried searching out alternate newspapers who print reviews and contacting Internet review sites. The sites are flooded with books. Many hide their addresses to avoid receiving books. Half Girl is an autobiographical, cautionary tale that I think (believe, hope) might appeal to younger women and to those who have been through the wilderness. I’ve been sending complimentary copies to librarians at women’s prisons across the United States and to high schools. Most weekdays I’m at the Lexington Avenue Post Office on my lunch hour with Rain Mountain books and Skidrow Penthouses and copies of Half Girl. Ms. Media Mail. What kind of response have I gotten? I’m still waiting to hear. Then I did some Internet research on how to go about getting reading clubs interested in your book. I was shocked, exhausted by website after website devoted to how to introduce your book to them. It was its own occupation, a full time one. I found books for sale on the process. I felt overwhelmed, a terror. I can’t do this, I won’t do this. Then, of course, there’s the thought—if it’s this hard to find readers—my work can’t be any good.

But with the Internet, the sophistication of desktop publishing, scanners and social networks there’s a revolution going on in publishing, writing and reading. Look at journals from a decade ago and compare them to today. How beautiful books are now. Much lush writing. Delicious looking books. What’s hard is finding readers. There’s on-line lit mags, on-line presses, e-books, blogging, self-publishing, self-promotion, internet amplification, words words words. An ocean of words. Who is reading books? Where are the readers? Are all the readers of literature also writers? Does a writer have to self-promote? Do you have to be on Face Book? Have a blog? Many writer friends tell me so.

And finally, a question about your regime, your work habits. Describe it to us.

My day job begins at 10:00 a.m. and ends at 7:00 p.m. That late start helps. It’s administrative assistant work and I stay in the office after everyone clears out. Then I have an island of quiet to myself thirty-six flights up in midtown Manhattan. I write until about 10:30 p.m. four nights a week. Sometimes it gets later, like midnight. In December I was mugged in the lobby of my building coming home from one of those late nights. One of the police officers asked, “What kind of work do you do?” Weekends, I write for longer blocks of time in my red room at home. My partner Rob works at the opposite end of the railroad apartment at his writing hub. His “Song of America” will be included in Best American Poetry 2009. We’re two loners who happen to be together.

Interviewer - Patricia Henley in Women Writers Get Together

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