Julia Dixon Evans interview with Karen Stefano
“He’ll Write Your Name On The Bedroom Wall” is a haunting piece. The subtle, simple lines of the story invite a delicious sense of doom:
“The day we all met Alan was the same day the first news vans came to town. The day of the third murder. The day someone other than the people in this town started paying attention.”
“Sometimes it seemed the more we were together, the more alone I was and the less I survived.”
“I no longer remember how he got me alone, how I got him alone.”
Julia, what was the inspiration for the character Alan in this piece?
The story is set in my hometown, a small village in Northern England, where I lived until age 11. Shortly before I moved away, a girl and her family moved in from Scotland, and she was such a marvel to us. I think I wanted to explore themes of the outsider, how that varies from place-to-place, time-to-time, and that big moment when young people realize that there’s so much more out there than they ever imagined.
Beyond that, my favorite book is Jeffrey Eugenides’ THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, and so much of that book shapes my writing. I love the obsessions, the worship, the pedestals afforded to these mysterious outsider characters. I’d say there’s a little Lux Lisbon in Alan.
And what good is having a hometown if you can’t set a bunch of murders in it?
This piece is fueled by a subtle sense of terror. Tell me, what terrifies you in this life? What are you most afraid of?
I’ve always been horror-averse, or even just intensity-averse. I’d hide behind pillows in scary scenes and also in really emotional scenes, long beyond the age it was okay to hide behind pillows. I think it comes from fearing the worst case scenarios I’d dream up, and the dark stuff I didn’t want to think about. And I think my fear comes quite intrinsically from not wanting to feed that.
One thing I love about writing terrifying stories is that it’s an easy place to just spell it all out. It seems funny to say that’s how I face fears: sitting alone writing fictionalized accounts of vague versions of them, while the real fearless people are out feeding refugees in war-torn nations or whatever.
It also seems not quite right to say the thing I’m most afraid of is my own mind. But that’s probably going to be my answer.
What is the inspiration for your work generally? What is your process in terms of transforming inspiration into a completed piece of work?
The vast majority of my fiction writing starts in some sort of science museum. I should probably thank the San Diego Natural History Museum for so much of my work. Whether it be the idea that a scientist would spend months nearly alone in a remote field station, or maybe a weirdly beautiful description of what an x-axis on a graph represents: something usually sparks me and it’s rarely an exciting plot point. A lot of my stories start with circumstances or characters, usually both. The story grows from there, generally even after I’ve started writing. Often, I won’t know what is going to happen until I start to work out what and who I’m working with and what they’re up against. And once (just once), a story started from a title.
You’re affiliated with the San Diego reading series So Say We All. Tell us about your role in that series, and tell us about the series itself.
I got involved with So Say We All in 2012. I’d been desperately seeking a local writing community or workshop, and was too late to sign up for any classes. I remember I went to my first Greenroom Writing Workshop (monthly, free) and worked on a novel, while everyone else wrote these powerful non-fiction narratives. I eventually started performing my own non-fiction stories in the monthly VAMP showcases (after being rejected a few times first). For a while, I used to joke that storytelling was a diversion, something I’d do to procrastinate fiction writing. But now I realize how the two feed each other. I very rarely feel vulnerable or afraid when I perform non-fiction work, but when I read fiction, I feel like everyone can see right through me.
As of the end of 2014, I serve as their Program Coordinator. It’s the best job I’ve ever had.
VAMP, our storytelling showcase, generally happens on the last Thursday of the month (with exceptions during the holidays) at the Whistle Stop Bar in South Park. The last few years have seen a packed house each month. It’s really exciting to see so many people shoulder-to-shoulder for the literary thing. The shows almost always make the audience laugh, but also sometimes cry. And definitely cringe. It’s hands-down my favorite night of the month. Submissions are generally due the beginning of the month, and selected stories will go through a really cool literary boot camp – edited, group-critiqued, and performance coached. The impact on my own writing has been unmatched.
We also teach creative writing and storytelling in the community, and we publish books – Black Candies, the well-regarded journal of literary horror, and our new literary journal The Radvocate. Coming soon, we’ll be publishing an anthology of veteran stories on the theme of Homecoming. Those veteran stories are also featured on our public radio show, Incoming, which began airing earlier this year on KPBS. So Say We All really strives to give everyone a chance to tell their own story.
I’m a big believer in the importance of creating a sense of community among writers. What’s your take on community among writers? And do you have any personal stories you’d be willing to share in which this sense of community has saved you or helped you as a writer?
Yes, me too! I believe that the writing community in San Diego is the reason I’ve had any stories published at all. I have no experience with other cities, but it seems like here, everyone is out to support each other.
I have some close writer friends in town that I’d trust with anything. Being able to share work, feedback, praise, and inspiration with other writers really improves what is otherwise very lonely work.
I also think the community of non-writers really makes things work here. In my own little world, I personally find it way easier to write or work in the literary arts because I have a husband who is willing to do all the chores and childcare while I sit and slave over a laptop into the wee hours. And in a bigger sense, there’s good readership here in town.
I surround myself with a lot of fiction writers, and beyond that, the So Say We All community is a great collection of writers from all walks of life. It’s all very collaborative and fun, and at the same time, exciting. I think we all have this sense, or maybe just a hope, that we’re kind of on the verge as a literary city.
There’s some incredible work coming out of San Diego, and one day I hope I can proudly tell everyone “Oh, that’s right, I’m one of those San Diego writers.”
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken as a writer?
Every time I click submit. And every time I click “New Blank Document.”
I understand you’re at work on a novel? Tell us what it’s about.
Yes! I’m almost always at work on a novel. I love working on long-form fiction, because of the way you can dig into a character, turn them inside-out and really get to know them.
I have a finished literary fiction novel, and it’s currently at the query stage of things. It’s called OTHER BURNING PLACES, and in it, Sheila is troubled, obsessive, and lonely except for her neighbor and his 12-year-old daughter. Sheila's obsessions, her family's unease, her post-faith relationship with institutionalized church, and her inability to interact with the real world keep her in a perpetual state of rock bottom. When her grandmother dies, she discovers a decades-old scandal that pushes her into madness, an unlikely friendship, and nearly sets her world on fire.
(Sheila also watches an obscene amount of KPBS and reads an obscene amount of living-with-disease blogs).
If you could go back in time and have a talk with your twelve-year-old self, what would you tell this girl? What advice could you impart?
Stop worrying. Sure, it’ll get better in some ways, but it also won’t get better in other ways. Be happier to be 12. Write more stuff down.
Wow! That’s good advice.
Tell me, what are your aspirations as a writer?
I’m trying to get a novel published right now, so that’s obviously at the top of my list. Beyond that, I’m really happy with the work I’ve been doing and just want to keep doing more of it, and keep doing it better. I’d love to have enough published short fiction out there to one day finally satisfy all the people who keep asking when I’ll “do” a short story collection.
And I’m also in the early stages of writing another novel, which might be a little more akin to “He’ll Write Your Name On The Bedroom Wall.”
I also love working with other writers and editing, as well as the curating work I do with So Say We All. I’d love to take a more intentional editorial role somewhere/somehow in the near future.
What are your aspirations as a human being?
Ha! Is this the hardest question I’ve ever been asked? I’d say that I want to be a kind and good person and to make people think or explore their own creativity. And I’d like to raise good kids.
What do you do daily to fulfill these aspirations?
Daily writing practice is way easier than daily Be A Good Person practice. I don’t always write daily, unless I’m in the thick of novel-writing, and then I could spend hours each day typing and wake up desperately wanting to write some more. I’m more of a when-it-hits me type of writer, but I do appreciate the muscle memory you get from somehow working on some sort of story each day. I try, at least.
Another big thing I think I do, unintentionally, is to try to be a good writing companion for others. I love providing feedback on people’s work, and when I read something great that a friend has written, it often lights a fire under me to write more. So, yeah, spend lots of time with writers. That’s my daily plan.
Julia! Thank you so much for sharing your work –and yourself– with Connotation Press!
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.