Anne Leigh Parrish‘s debut collection of short stories, All The Roads That Lead From Home, will be available this October from Press 53.  Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Virginia Quarterly Review, Clackamas Literary Review, The Pinch, American Short Fiction, Eclectica Magazine, Storyglossia, PANK, Bluestem, r.kv.r.y., and many other publications.  Visit her website at

You can read the title story of Anne’s collection, “All The Roads That Lead From Home,” on Fictionaut.

As a reader, which writers do you feel closest to?

William Trevor and Alice Munro.  Also Edna O’Brien.  You’ll notice that none are American authors.  I don’t know what that means, except that I’m drawn to the exotic.

At different points as a writer, have you had mentors? Do you mentor?

Mike Curtis at The Atlantic served informally as my mentor for a good eight years.  I sent him story after story, and while he didn’t accept any, he always cut to the chase in just a few well-chosen sentences.  I learned a great deal from him.  Yes, I mentor.  I’ve mentored probably more than I’ve actually taught.  I meet people on the internet who ask if they can send me something of theirs.  I always says yes.  I think it’s necessary to share what you’ve learned, as if writing were a basket of bread handed around a wide, lively table of voices.

How do you stay creative? What are your tricks to get “unstuck?”

I stay creative by accepting the fallow periods.  They’re inevitable.  Inspiration is intermittent, not constant.  To keep going I start another short story, or if I’m working on my novel, drop one of the characters into a strange situation they don’t quite know how to get out of.  The need to find out the result always wakes me up and gets me back on track.

Favorite writing exercises you would like to share?

I’m not much on exercise, per se, but I like to invent odd situations, like a scholar who forges the diary of a Confederate soldier who never existed; a group of children bringing home an old man that wandered away from his nursing home; a young woman who donates her used piano to a priest who befriends her.  Once I have the “core” of a story, the exercise becomes filling in the gaps, and creating the world my people live in.

Suggestions for making characters live? Do you know who they are before you write or do you find out who they are in the writing?

I like to show a person’s weakness, the thing that makes him fail.  Then there comes a moment when the weakness is overcome, if only temporarily.  I begin with a general idea of who someone is, but moving that soul through struggles, passion, and pain is where the real learning takes place.  As the character becomes complex and multi-layered for me, she does for the reader, too.  Ideally speaking.

Plot: how it evolves for YOU… anything on this subject.

For me plot is all about how best to showcase the moment when a story changes direction, either in the mind of the reader, or the protagonist, or both.  My plots are fairly simple, nothing daring or extraordinary.  The action takes place inside my characters more than it does in the outside world.  That said, I do try to throw the reader a few curves to keep her interested, some odd circumstance that sharpens the view, like meeting up with an old rival for lunch, and seeing that she’s caught the hem of her dress in the car door as she drives away.

The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday, Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” is now out from Press 53. She blogs at

  1. susan tepper

    Enjoyed this interview very much and look forward to Anne’s new book. Anne we share the same 3 writers! Plus I adore the work of Robert Olen Butler, who, by the way is a member of Fictionaut.

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