In your story, “Breaking the Frame,” you play with the conventions of the short story—using art, and specifically, descriptions of photographs, to advance the story in unconventional ways. What prompted such experimentation?
“Breaking the Frame” was born from photographs. My friend Maria Dahvana Headley had shown me a book of Francesca Woodman’s photos, and they haunted me—I couldn’t get Woodman’s work out of my head, and I dreamt of the pictures. So I got a copy of the book, looked at it from cover to cover twice, and sat down and wrote the first draft. I knew as soon as I started writing that I wanted to use photographs as a framing device for the story in order to pay tribute to its origins.
Do you have experience in art or art history? Photography? A strong interest in the subject?
I take absolutely terrible photos. I have a negative talent for it. I’ve never studied art or art history formally. But I love the visual arts, and I’ve found that one of the best things I can do to feed my own creativity is to immerse myself in art that is different than writing.
This is a very voice-driven story. Is that something you work on through revision, or did it come naturally? Do you read your work aloud?
In this instance, I was lucky in that the voice was there from the beginning. But I do always read my work out loud, sometimes multiple times. I think that the way the words sound can be a useful part of telling a story.
Was this a hard story to write?
Yes. Not so much from a technical standpoint, but from an emotional one. It was significantly different in an earlier draft, and writing that draft felt like taking sandpaper to the inside of my skin. So I am particularly grateful to my terrific writing group for helping me see all of the possibilities in what I had written, and getting me from that draft to the finished version.
So much of the story seems to deal with empowerment and change. Are these themes important to you? Do you believe in change?
My answer to both of those questions is absolutely yes. I think it is very much possible for people to grow into the spaces in their own skins, and to become the most real version of themselves. I also don’t think those things are always easy—sometimes becoming empowered means clutching and clawing at every scrap of power you can wrench for yourself, and that growth can hurt. But I believe that the pain and the struggle are worth it.
What else do you have coming down the pipeline?
I have a ballet that I collaborated on with dancer and writer Megan Kurashige and Sharp & Fine—A Thousand Natural Shocks—that is premiering in San Francisco this month. There’s a short story coming out in Apex later this year, and a novelette with Subterranean. I’m working on other projects as well, which I am too superstitious to mention, and I’ve recently moved back to the Twin Cities.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I really do encourage people to check out Francesca Woodman’s photos. They are extraordinary, and I could not have written this story without seeing them.
Spread the word!