We are pleased to welcome Lauren Becker to Fictionaut’s Writers on Craft. Lauren Becker is editor of Corium Magazine. Her work has appeared in numerous print and online venues, including Tin House, The Rumpus, The Los Angeles Review, and Wigleaf. Her collection of short fiction, If I Would Leave Myself Behind, was released by Curbside Splendor Publishing in June of 2014.
What do you read when you despair at the state of either your work or a particularly difficult manuscript in progress—any “go to” texts?
I don’t have any formal training in writing, which is sort of an explanation rather than an excuse for my lack of knowledge with regard to instructive texts about writing. Honestly, when I despair at the state of my work, which occurs often, I tend to walk away from reading much. Reading great work sometimes feels accusatory to me. At times I get down on myself for not being as productive or talented as the writers I otherwise take great joy in reading. That said, when I push past that completely unconstructive way of thinking, I am inspired by authors including Alice Munro, A.M. Homes, Miranda July, and George Saunders, as well as writers better known in the independent literary community, including Andrea Kneeland, Ravi Mangla, Amber Sparks, Scott Garson, and Alan Rossi.
If you could give just one piece of advice to emerging authors about editing that has served you well, what would it be?
Believe in what you write before putting it out in the world. Whether you feel your work is “done” without edits, or whatever you’re writing takes years to finish.
If it doesn’t fit, cut it. If it doesn’t lend itself to inference by a reader, cut it. I’m a big fan of cutting. I respond best to incisive writing that assumes an intelligent reader.
How has your perception of what you “do” with your work changed as you have continued to write?
I think this goes back to my answer to the previous question. When I first started writing, I was greedy for publication. As a result, I look at older work that was published that feels unfinished or just bad. My standards are much higher. If I don’t stand behind it absolutely, I don’t submit it. I reverted to my old habit with a piece recently and am embarrassed that I sent out work I didn’t fully support. I’ll work on that piece again, but it’s tucked away until I love it.
What do you feel is the purpose of literature?
I have no idea how to answer this question. I guess I would say that the purpose of literature to me is nourishment, sustenance, hope. Putting words together is creation, almost in the sense of giving birth. I know this sounds extreme, but I feel like literature saves my life over and over. Reading and writing have provided me with an identity. I cannot define myself without the role that literature has played in my life.
As a human being, what is the best advice you have to offer?
If you view life as competition, you will lose. Giving love and support doesn’t mean you have less. We each have an endless supply.
Your work features incredibly intimate moments with narrators who seem to visualize themselves disappearing at times. It explores themes of loneliness and friendships between women quite a bit—as well as romantic relationships. Can you speak to your thoughts about writing women, or writing women well?
I write from experience or imagined or desired experience, and I’m fascinated with friendships between women – the negotiation involved. Expectations of the role one will play in the other’s life. What happens when those expectations are or aren’t fulfilled. It goes back to my life advice about competition. Too often, I have found women compete with one another rather than providing support and encouragement. I am fascinated by the precariousness of love relationships, whether between friends or in the romantic sense. I don’t mean to write only about the bleak aspects of these relationships: I have many supportive, healthy relationships. I write about loss and loneliness to make sense of it, to mourn ended relationships, to connect with people. We’ve all experienced loneliness. I suppose it makes me feel less lonely (and more visible, in the sense of the wording of your question) to know this.
The shape of some of your prose is quite poetic. I notice this in both the cadences of some of the sentences and the inversion of phrases. What relationship does poetry have to your fiction? Is this a conscious choice since many of the stories in the new collection are flash fiction, which lends itself to density?
I love when people tell me things about myself I don’t know. The more I hear interpretations of my work, the more I learn about recurrent themes or devices I use. Do I write with poetic leanings intentionally? No. It’s what comes out.
What’s recently released or in the pipeline for your readers? And what are you working on now? Give us a sneak peek.
I’m still writing flash and have a few things set for publication in the new year. I am writing a longer story with a favorite writer/friend. I have an idea for a collaborative book that’s rolling around in my head. Mostly, I am attempting to work on a novel that is continually confounding and satisfying. I’m excited to push myself to write longer, to work against my comfort with conciseness, to let characters exist for more than a few hundred words. I can’t wait to find out what these characters will do and become.