We interviewed Laura Forsythe, winner of the Recovery Contest with Blake Nelson. Her entry, Recoverup, was chosen as the winner and is now on Figment for everyone to read and comment on. To celebrate her victory, we asked Laura a few questions about her works, writing practices and other random things. Read on to see how 500 balloons factor in.
1. When writing, do you ever find your own voice taking over the character’s? Are there any points in your works where you intrude into your own text, especially in the disguise of your character?
Oh my yes. I think one of the biggest problems about being a writer is that I have favourite words. Words I am compelled to use whenever the opportunity arises, that are painful to cross out, no matter how wrong they are for the character. I’ll even catch myself twisting the character to suit the word I’m itching to use, which I think is one of those “lie” situations that must be excised. Sometimes I can break myself away from that problem by thinking of a word that I really don’t like that the character would absolutely use without a second thought. The same goes for their opinions. Sometimes I catch myself shying away from my character’s true voice because I don’t want people to think that I think that. True enough, I have my own sometimes-strong views on things, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with creating work that supports those views — but if I get that mixed up with my ego and wanting everybody to think that I’m a wonderful person and that’s why they should agree with my way of seeing things, then I just end up making something totally bland that doesn’t bring anyone closer to understanding the complexity inherent in the controversy.
2. The majority of your works are in first person narrative, with a very relaxed and conversational tone. Does this come naturally to you (or is it something you choose), and have you ever tried to experiment with the narrator’s voice?
First person is sort of my default position, it’s true. It’s a choice in that I do consider other possibilities if there’s something ‘off’ about my first tack — but it’s very rare that I’ll try something other than first person for a first pass. (How many times can I use the word “first” here?) I think it’s because I’ve wanted to be a playwright for a long time. On stage, not only is everything inherently conversational, but each character gets to present their position in the first person, pretty much. I love that. I love seeing multiple viewpoints contend with one another in such an immediate, intimate way, and I love the challenge of having to get inside everybody and find a way to push their internal lives outwards as a writer.
I’m basically a super secretive show-off. I’ve literally committed acts of physical assault against people who tried to read my notebooks, but when I get the urge to share something, I’m super-obnoxiously in everybody’s face about it. I don’t necessarily draw the line at whether I think I’ve done a good job or not. Usually if I want to share something, it’s because I want to talk about it. Not just “I want you to tell me I’m awesome” or “I want constructive criticism,” (although both of those are lovely) but I really want to know what other people think about this subject that has been on my mind enough to turn into a piece of writing. I guess that’s kind of an elaborate, annoying way to go about having a conversation with somebody, but I’m kind of incompetent at traditional conversational routes. I used to be pretty involved in zine culture, and I find that background gives me a different approach in terms of when something is “ready” to be seen. It’s a lot easier to get up the guts to throw something out there when your goal is just to connect with somebody, rather than establish yourself as a respectable writer or something. I’m not saying I don’t have anxiety about whether the things I make are any good, but I find that anxiety diminishes if my goal is communicating something rather than proving myself worthy.
4. What kinds of literature have influenced and inspired you to write? About how old were you when you wrote your first work?
I’m most motivated by literature that makes me acknowledge what it’s like to be alive. I like stuff that gets right inside the most intense, weird human experiences, or even just the weird intensity of really common experiences. There’s a long list of people who get it right, but just one example: one of my all-time favourite pieces of writing is a short story by Grace Paley called Wants. In it, a woman runs into her ex-husband at the library while returning some books that are nearly two decades overdue. It’s so short — less than three pages — but you come out of it feeling like you’ve been through this woman’s entire adult life with her. There’s this brilliant balance of covering vast sweeps of time with succinct phrases, and then lingering on a few small details that are so particular and peculiar that you can’t not care about the people who went through them. Stuff like that makes me want to get good enough to put more stuff like that in the world, for sure.
In terms of what made me start writing, when I was in second grade my teacher read us some book about a mermaid or a swamp witch or something — obviously the memory has faded somewhat, but when she read out the author’s name it was this distinct moment when I realised that books were like, written by people. So that’s when I started writing in a really self-conscious way. But before that, my mumma used to write down stories that I would dictate to her. A lot of them were about me and a bunch of arctic animals who were all named Waldo.
5. Have you ever played an epic prank on someone?
I don’t know if it could be called a prank, but when one of my housemates went away for a few days, we filled his room with balloons. And I do mean filled. It took a lot of breath, and eventually he was kind of tired of them, so in order not to let them go to waste, a few weeks later, when our downstairs neighbour went on vacation, we herded all of the balloons down into her apartment. I have to tell you, the sound of approximately 500 balloons being pushed through a narrow corridor is kind of fantastic. It’s like a latex stampede. Her dad was with her when she came home, and apparently he FREAKED OUT and popped every last balloon in about five minutes. So I guess given the fact that they seemed somehow menacing to one of the ultimate recipients, that could be qualified as a prank.
6. If you were trapped in Figment headquarters, what would you do?
Um, gee. What are Figment headquarters like? I sort of picture them being like this playwrights organization I worked for, which was housed in two rooms in the sub-sub-basement of a university psych building. I never got trapped in there, but I did pull a couple of non-work-related overnighters in the office. I’d pick plays off the shelves and read them to myself in silly voices, or write and read my own work out loud so that I could test things out without bothering my room-mate. I was trying to create a one-person punk musical at the time, and I’m pretty much only good at thinking in the middle of the night, so it was super helpful to have someplace underground where I could be kind of insane. So yeah. If the Figment headquarters are anything like that, it’d probably go something like that. Either that or I’d cover every surface with enigmatic post-it notes for y’all to decode when you finally found me.
7. You’re in the middle of writing a poem or story, and you suddenly hit a snag – what do you do to overcome this?
I wish I could remember who wrote the list of tips I got this from, but (I’m paraphrasing here): “If you get stuck writing, it is probably because someplace a little ways back you have written a lie. Go back and cross it out and try again.”
I write fiction almost exclusively, so it’s funny trying to pick out some particular thing as “a lie” from a great big mess of made up things — but there is a stark difference between the two, which I am totally unqualified to describe. I’m pretty sure rooting out the lies is easier to actually do than finding a needle in a haystack, but it’s way more difficult to explain than the difference between a needle and a piece of straw.