Originally from Cincinnati, Julie Innis now lives in New York.  Her stories have been published in Post RoadGargoyle, Blip, Fwriction: Review, JMWW, Connotation Press, Prick of the Spindle, Thunderclap!, and The Long Story, among others.  She was the recipient of the 7th Glass Woman Prize for Fiction and was listed as a Top-25 finalist for Glimmer Train’s Short Story Award for New Writers. She holds as Master’s degree in English Literature from Ohio University and is currently on staff at One Story as a reader.  Three Squares a Day with Occasional Torture is her first book.

What is your feeling about having mentors as a writer? Talk about the mentor relationship if you will, its importance to a writer…

At first glance I read this as Mentos®,  a candy with whom, if we’re being completely honest, I have a very complicated relationship – that crunchy exterior, that minty soft interior: savor or chew, savor or chew??  And don’t even get me started about their ad campaigns (exhibit A).  I often work in libraries and these sort of Wild Study Breaks of Minty Excess are not really what your average library patron wants to stumble across in the stacks.  But it could be that I’m patronizing my library all wrong – it wouldn’t be the first time.

However, after I put my glasses on, I had what is commonly referred to as an  “Ah-Ha! Moment” as I realized you’d asked me about Mentors®.   In my humble opinion, Mentors®  are as important to writers as minty fresh breath is to slatternly library patrons and I’ve been extremely lucky to have both in my life.  Though in my case (as well as the cases of millions of others, writers and non-writers alike), even more important than Mentors® have been Employers®, as I quite like being able to afford to feed myself on a semi-regular basis.

Sometimes you’re lucky enough to meet a Mentor® and an Employer® all rolled up into one.  For me, that person was Joyce Barlow Dodd, the director of Ohio University’s Spring Literary Festival who hired me on as an assistant during my time as a BA and MA student in OU’s English department.  To say that she saved my life would not be hyperbolic as without that job and her many kindnesses to me, I would not have been able to afford tuition, books, food, or rent.  And <bonus!> I had the pleasure of meeting an incredible assortment of writers, too numerous to name individually here, but whose works and words shaped a great deal of my thinking as a reader and fledging writer.  (Though upon graduation, I promptly quit writing in favor of teaching middle and high school English for the next fifteen years, but that, as they say, is Another Story…)

What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired and does it work to trick the brain into working?

When I’m stuck or uninspired, what doesn’t help is anything involving a computer screen, though good luck trying to tell my monkey brain that.  What does help is a change of scenery, which could be as simple as staring out my window and into the windows of the people who live across from me.  Oh my wacky neighbors and their crazy hijinks! But on the days, (many days,  now that they’ve caught onto me) when they have their blinds drawn, the best imagination kickstarter I’ve found is to take a long and destination-adverse walk, a.k.a  “wandering without aim.”  I am a whiz at aimlessness.  Zero navigational skills but great endurance.

Are there favorite writing exercises or prompts which you use regularly & will share?

I am a failure at prompts because of a) my inability to follow simple directions (Imagine you are on a sinking ship.  Now describe it!) and b) a pernicious stubborn streak (Sinking?? Fuck that!!), genetic traits that hindered my repeated attempts to get into the Gifted and Talented program at my elementary school, despite my very large IQ (well, to be honest, more like my very large head.  My hat size by age 9 was the stuff of myth and legend; my IQ, not so much).  But I do scribble a lot of “What If” lists, a.k.a. “Disaster Scenarios and Preparedness Plans. ” If one were to study my stories (as I hope one, say Harold Bloom perhaps?, might), one could trace each plot line back to a very Clear and Present Danger-scenario facing us all.  Serial Killers! – check.  Mitt Romney! – check.  Talking rodents running amok!  – check, check, and check.  I’ve thought through ’em all and then some.  Lots and lots of thinking, usually in conjunction with aimless wandering.

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 know what my characters sound like before I know who they are.  A line of dialogue, often a  malapropism based on something I’ve just misheard or misread, pops into my head, spoken by a particular voice that then works his or her way into fuller being  by taking whatever actions in whatever settings where this particular voice might utter this particular thing.  If I had a therapist, I suspect she/he might order up a full psych-panel  on me re. these voices, but as I can barely afford Mentos® much less mental health services, I instead just write it all down and see where the voices take me and for the most part, it works out.

What’s the best writer’s advice you were ever given?

“Amuse yourself.”  At least, I think this was meant to be taken as writer’s advice…it was dark and the details are hazy.

Please talk a bit about the other parts of your creative life… what you love to do and wish to do more of…

I’m currently taking a beginner’s Spanish class, though honestly I would probably be a much better student if I didn’t consider it as part of my “creative life.”  I like to approach each Spanish class as if it’s a two-hour casting call for the World’s Greatest Telenovela , but because of my limited (muy limited) proficiency, I am often forced to ad-lib, making up words on the spot to go along with my (él jazz) hand gestures, much to my Spanish teacher’s chagrino.  See?  Right there.  “Chagrino” is not actually Spanish for ‘chagrin.’  Stuff like this drives my teacher locoMuy muy loco.  But I love it, I really do.  I think it’s been helpful for me to take a break from English, even if it means sounding like él nutjob.  Or especially if it means sounding like él nutjob.

Please talk about the process of writing your collection Julie! anything here you want to say

I didn’t actually realize that I had a “collection” until Stephen Marlowe at Foxhead Books asked if I would consider submitting a manuscript for their consideration.  Up to that point, I just had a box full of “stuff” that some kind editors had seen fit to publish mixed in with “stuff” that other kind editors had seen fit to not-publish.  As I did not want to have to explain my box-system to  a potential book publisher, I did what any self-respecting writer would do — I bluffed big time and then spent several panicked days trying to compile a “collection” out of “stuff” that rapidly became known to me, and my closest neighbors, as something far less “savory.”  What have I gotten myself into? I wailed to the largely indifferent writing gods as I struggled to find a common thread, a thematic link, a plausible order to the chaos contained within The Box.  In the end, I selected nineteen stories of various lengths, points of view, and subjects that together told a story of a life.  To be clear, it’s not a linked collection (though those are super-popular and if you happen to be working on one, well-played, oh savvy writer!) and the life it tells may only be visible to me.  But so it goes.  All jokes aside, I’m very happy with the result and overjoyed that Foxhead Books decided to take me on, warts and all.

Anything about your new works, stuff you are currently working on… in your life and/or writing life.

I am working on something longer that I’m probably going to need a bigger box for soon.

What is next for you?

A lot more aimless wandering, I suspect.  And as many Mentos® as my budget will allow.

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 http://megpokrass.com.

  1. Marcus Speh

    I got terribly distracted in the first part of this interview because you made me want Mentos® so bad, but when I could refocus after finding an old Mentos® in my pocket (now gone), I began to enjoy it as I enjoy everything pretty much that comes from Julie’s Brooklyn den…she’s a Serious Writer® who makes it all appear light and fun but there’re many cogs and wheels underneath her craft, and it took many snacks, I’m sure, to develop it. Best of luck to your book and felicitaciones and saludo desde Berlín.

  2. james claffey

    great interview! love the mentos madness and the spanglish story!

  3. Christian Bell

    Great interview. Ms. Innis is a great writer. I hope this collection is a rousing success.

    I can relate to the failure regarding writing prompts. I rebel when I see one. In one particular instance where I was presented with one involving a duck, the POV of Don Knotts, and the ending word “go,” I had to be physically restrained and administered a tranquilizer (not a sedative—a tranquilizer). Of course, I’ve been called “delusional.” Actually, within the last hour, someone called me delusional. How many of you can say that? Here’s something for you–write a story from the point of view of someone who’s just been called delusional. What’s that loud crashing noise I just heard?

    Mentos® is a candy that I just can’t bring myself to impulse buy while in the supermarket checkout aisle. I’m more likely to buy the latest Star magazine, a different kind of candy.

  4. David Ackley

    Julie is both wise and wiseass, a perfect combination for a talented, very funny and extremely perceptive writer who learned early and well the important lesson: Don’t take yourself too seriously, virtually assuring(assuming the ‘reality’ of ‘virtual’ assurances) that others will take you very seriously indeed. As they should–at least in Julie’s cas

  5. David Ackley

    Um, case.

  6. Gessy Alvarez

    A funny, smart, inspiring writer. Just love her!

  7. Heather Fowler

    Mentos, Julie, Mentos, Julie… I am so distracted. Sugary goodness or literary goodness. ;) Fun chat! xo, H

  8. Andy Roe

    Savor or chew, indeed. Great interview Julie (and Meg). Looking forward to reading Three Squares.

  9. David James

    Ms, Innis, I simply love the combination of humor, intelligence and art. There are large dollops of all three here. Thanks for sharing yourself with us here. Good job by both of you.

  10. Ramon Collins

    An entertaining and educational interview, Meggins and Julie. As an educator you give writing students (me) sage, concise advice: “. . . just write it all down . . .”.

    I love your aimless walking-thoughts and even fantasize about your warts.

  11. Christopher

    SMILES :)

  12. Julie Innis

    Thank you all so much, very grateful for your interest in my oddities. And so grateful to Meg for her encouragement, time, and support! Feeling extremely lucky, warts and all.

  13. Jane Hammons

    Love the point about making characters live, hearing the voice before knowing the character.

  14. Sam Rasnake

    Excellent. Enjoyed reading this interview. Julie Innis is a fine writer. One of the best – period.

  15. Matt Dennison

    Great interview, Julie/Meg…

    Are there currently any reviews available to read before I read the book?


  16. Alex M. Pruteanu

    Like Marcus, I got distracted by the Mentos, but only because I confused it with Ricola, so then I had to get those bloody beckoning calls out of my head before I could proceed. It took 2 full days. But then I was able to finally enjoy this interview. Loved it. Is there a “fave” or a star or thumb up I can give? Because I give.

  17. Doug Bond

    A delightful F5 interview, richly layered with equal doses of humor and insight, mirroring Julie’s work in these and other pages.

    Somewhere in the wilds of Brooklyn a quirky Mento toking writer samples a bit of Spanish while musing out the window at the entertainments of her neighbors and simultaneously conducting character voice auditions in her head. Ms. Innis conjures out of Ms. Pokrass’ questions something richer than average one-course answers. Cheers to Three Squares and for the “stuff” that’s yet to come.

  18. James Lloyd Davis

    My generation is rightfully suspicious of both Mentos® and Mentors®, but we do appreciate an artfully drawn pastiche of humor and pathos. For that reason, we appreciate Julie Innis. There should be some kind of award, but people of my generation are also suspicious of awards and committees, so it’s probably not going to happen. We would have to meet and there would be someone with a pony tail who’d pull out a doobie, start talking about ‘wouldn’t it be nice if we could maybe jam…’ and someone’s always got a guitar in the trunk of their Honda… and then somebody would start a litany of obituaries and… Jeez, ten minutes tops, we’d all forget why we were there. Wonderful book, Julie. I enjoyed it immensely and recommend it to every one in every generation and every market subgroup therein.

  19. Shelagh Chopra

    Really enjoyed this mentos-in-cheek (hopefully not mentors in cheek, don’t want to read about Julie chewing up mentors on the streets of Brooklyn!) interview. And you should always amuse yourself – sage advice! Looking forward to reading this collection – have always admired Julie’s writing and her great sense of humor.

  20. Julie

    JLD, I’d happily share a doobie with you any day. Thank you for your good words – means a lot. And Shelagh, the admiration’s always been mutual. Thank you.

  21. larry Strattner

    I knew all this but agree with it anyway. This is what I get for being seventeenth. LarryS

  22. Andrew Stancek

    On a difficult day, Julie, you made me laugh so hard I have tears streaming down my cheeks and cannot stop the hiccups. I have read a dynamite story of yours which I still remember vividly long after. I will buy that book. I probably won’t eat it, with ketchup or without.

  23. Gloria Mindock

    Meg and Julie-

    Great interview. Enjoyed it very much.

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