MARY YUKARI WATERS, interviewed by Sherry Ellis:
When you are writing a story, which usually comes first—plot or character?
Each story develops in a different way. Sometimes I'll just start with a feeling. Once I was talking with a poet, and I told her that one of my stories had started with a complex emotion that I had a real need to capture on paper. And then I created an entire story building up to that fleeting moment, so that the reader could experience the exact feeling I had. And the poet said, "Oh, that's exactly the way I write my poetry." That was a really nice bonding moment. Or sometimes a story might begin with a dilemma, and I keep writing to see how it's going to play out. For example, "Egg-Face" is a story that starts with the dilemma of a thirty-year-old woman who's never had a date or a job. I was interested in her predicament, and I wanted to see where it would take me. Or sometimes a story will start with an interesting little detail, one that often ends up being completely insignificant to the story. But you have to start somewhere, and a curious fact or detail can get you into a story. For example, in "Since My House Burned Down," there's a brief section about a girl practicing her silverware skills so she can go to an omelet parlor. This detail came from a story my grandmother told me about her own youth. When she was growing up, the popular girls would be invited by their dates to eat at this tiny store that was open only for lunch. They sold a plain American omelet, served with ketchup from a bottle. It was such a status symbol to go there. I loved that story, because it was so funny and odd. I thought I'd start out with it and see what came of it. The story ended up taking off in a completely different direction, and the omelet never became a significant part. But at least it got me started. There are endless ways you can begin a story. Every time I start a new piece, I feel like I'm reinventing the wheel. And I always have this sense of panic, because I feel just as clueless as I did when I wrote my first story. I've never developed a pat system for these things. And I don't ever want to, because then it'll become like a factory, where I'm just cranking out stories from the same basic mold. I like it that each story poses challenges, that you can never rest on your laurels. That keeps it interesting, and rather scary.
WATERS, Mary Yukari. Story collection: The Laws of Evening. Stories in Shenandoah, Triquarterly, Manoa, Black Warrior Review, Missouri Review, Indiana Review, Zoetrope, Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Book of Short Stories.
CARRIE BROWN, interviewed by Jennifer Levasseur and Kevin Rabalais:
You've said you often remain close to a character, even after the book is completed. Do your books begin with a character?
They seem to begin with a moment—a particular person in a particular place at a particular moment. The novel I'm working on now began with a man being driven in the back seat of a car down a long lane toward a house at night. It has been snowing heavily. It seems to be the late 1940s, post World War II. I didn't know who he was, or who was driving him, or where he was going, or why he was going there, but eventually I began to discover these things. These moments don't seem to become the beginnings of the stories, necessarily—I work both forward and back from them—but they are the seeds from which the stories spring.
BROWN, Carrie. Novels: The Rope Walk, Rose's Garden, Confinement, The Hatbox Baby, Lamb in Love. Story collection: The House on Belle Isle. Sweet Briar College.
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