Erin Britt returns to the Blog Mansion. You may remember her from when her back from 2013 with CELIA when we were at the Origami Fold-Off & Jalapeño Juggling Competition. Today we meet in the hall of mirrors to discuss FRACTURED, her new book and writing in general.
Erin: These mirrors are strange. I keep walking into them. What did you do buy out a funhouse?
Johnny: A couple of them actually. The trick to finding your way is to break them.
J: Yes. You have to break them to see.
E: Oh, so you can navigate through them?
J: No. They have to be broken so you can see yourself truly.
J: I always say that though not ever book needs to published, or even read, every book needs to be written. It has to do with writing as therapy, self-reflection and exploration. Artistic expression. Socrates’ quote comes to mind: “An unexamined life is not worth living.” I find your work particularly self-reflective, and like your new book FRACTURED, it is best understood with the cracks in it. When did you begin it?
E: I didn’t come up with the idea for the collection until about two months before I released it, but the pieces that make up the collection span several years. It wasn’t until I took a creative nonfiction writing class for Spring Semester 2015 that I wrote the title essay, "Fractured," and it occurred to me that fracturing was a common theme to a lot of what I write. It was just a matter of going through what I had and putting them into some form of order.
J: It’s raw and beautiful.
E: My oldest son had brain surgery, so I was spending a lot of time away from work running him to appointments and being in Chicago for his surgery. I put the collection together as a way to do some fundraising without actually asking people for money.
J: How much of it is you? How much is fiction?
E: What’s different about FRACTURED is that it contains both fiction and nonfiction. The nonfiction essays are all various parts of me. Some of the stories have aspects of personal experience, either lived or observed, but mostly they’re fiction. The poetry is a healthy mix of me and of fiction.
J: You must have been terrified to bring it out, and yet you did, on your own. What’s self-publishing like?
E: It has its pros and cons. The thing I like about it is that I always get paid, and on a regular basis, if I sell a copy. I also get a larger piece of the pie. It also means that if I don’t sell any copies, it’s because I suck at marketing. Spoiler alert: I suck at marketing. I also had no editor as a safety net, so I had to make sure I had people I could trust and whose opinions I valued to read through it and give me their input. I made a lot of revisions and I’m pretty happy with the end result. As far as being scared, I think as writers we’re always scared to put our art on display. Once it leaves my hands, I lose control over how it’s received. Maybe people get something out of it that I didn’t intend. Maybe people hate it. All I can do is put it out there and hope for the best.
J: I knew your prose, but now I appreciate your poetry. FRACTURED has some wonderful pieces. As an author do you have a preference, poetry or prose?
E: Different stories want to be told different ways. I started out as a poet, and it’s had a profound impact on my prose writing. With poetry, you have limited space with which to tell your story, so you learn to be picky with word choice. Your images have to do more work. It’s helped me to keep the fluff to a minimum so I have less to cut later. I guess that’s just a long way of saying that even when I write prose, in a way I’m still writing poetry.
J: Some of your poetry appears in HIDDEN IN PLAIN SIGHT. My readers will remember that I has a short story in that anthology as well. Mine is called THE LOST CURSE OF THE WITCH’S NEST and it’s wonderful. You, Erin have two poems, HOWL and YOUR SECRET ADMIRER and they’re wonderful too.
E: Thanks. HOWL was inspired by a real life tragedy. I wish that it wasn’t. It’s my very small attempt at making sure a lost life is not forgotten. It’s an acrostic piece, so if you read down the left hand side, you’ll find my memorial message. YOUR SECRET ADMIRER was just a chance to be super creepy. I had a lot of fun writing that piece.
J: You’re working on your MFA right? How’s that?
E: My MA. I still take writing workshops, but it has a heavy literature side, too. One of the papers I wrote, “Lockwood as Voyeur in WUTHERING HEIGHTS, was published in my university’s Graduate Research Journal. Most people pay attention to Catherine and Heathcliff. Lockwood operates so effectively as a voyeur because he escapes everyone’s notice. At any rate, I only have my thesis to write and then I will be done with school. I can’t wait!
J: It can’t be easy to go to school and work and raise a family and live in America. How do you pull it off?
E: I’m not entirely convinced that I do. If I’m being honest, my family life has suffered. Of course, my family life was suffering even before I went back to school, so there’s that. I just do the best that I can and hope that in the end it was good enough.
J: I know you’ve had some tough challenges. Does writing help you cope?
E: Sometimes. I don’t normally write when I’m in the middle of a crisis, so it’s usually well after the fact and it helps me to reflect on what was going on. FRACTURED, the essay, was the first time that I was forced to write through something that was still happening. And for a workshop class, at that. And honestly, if I can let a room full of people read that essay as it was still being written, I can let anyone read anything. It did help, though, to have a place to put all of the fear and the anger. I cry every time I go back to read it. Not because my writing is that profound or anything. It was just the scariest point in my life so far and rereading the essay takes me back to that space.
J: What’s coming up in your life and your career?
E: Graduation! I will be graduating in May with honors. I have two short stories coming out this year. BLOOD AND RAIN will be in EDGE OF DARKNESS, an anthology coming out from Dark Chapter Press. FRAILTY will be in DARK CHAPTER PRESS: A-Z, which is a thriller/suspense anthology that features twenty-six authors. I was assigned the letter F. I’m really proud to be attached to these two projects. I’ll be looking into publishing my thesis, MIND GAMES, once I’m done defending it. And, you know, writing it. I’m also in the process of setting myself up as an editor. ERINDIPITY EDITING will offer both editorial services and custom writing work. Hopefully I’ll be ready to start accepting projects in the next few weeks. In the meantime, I have a government day job that I really enjoy and that pays the bills. Hooray for eating!
J: What advice do you have for other writers?
E: You aren’t a writer if you don’t actually write anything. Put the words on the page. Worry about making them pretty later. Just get them down. It’s also okay to suck. Seriously. Writing is a skill and an art. The more you do it, the better you will get. I don’t think we give ourselves enough permission to be bad at things. You have to be willing to be very bad at something if you want to be very good at it. You should see some of the crap I churn out.
J: Can you share a poem with us?
E: Sure. This was something I wrote in response to a writing exercise someone gave me. They listed a series of colors and I had to write a poem that used all of those colors. It’s one of my favorite poems I’ve ever written.
I've always wanted to ask you why?
You left me and I needed you.
Tiny red rosettes nested in my curls.
You watched him slip a simple gold band on my finger,
Then you were gone.
The last time I saw you, you wore grey,
Your silver hair matching the silk you rested on.
Clad in black, I melted into shadows.
I sat alone there, shrouded in my technicolor grief-
Orange fear, magenta rage.
Tears turned blue eyes turquoise, pain turned them teal.
They sealed you inside a brown, shiny box,
Planted you like so many daisies.
I’m still waiting for your flowers to bloom.
They don't, they never do, so I bring my own,
Sweet petals of pink and purple.
In the end, I leave with nothing
But a question and green stains across my knees.
J: Come on you’re falling behind.
E: Where’d you go?
J: Follow my voice.
E: Oh there you are. I thought you were going to break mirrors so I could follow you.
J: I did.
E: This one isn’t broken. I can see myself clearly.
J: It is broken. It’s in shards. Only the frame holds it together.
E: Oh. Yes. I can see the cracks and breaks now that you mention it. But it is the only mirror that reflects properly.
J: Yes. The others don’t understand.