MT: Your story “0=1” was the Fiction First Runner-up for SolLit Magazine’s Annual Lit Contest in 2013. Now the story appears in SolLit Selects: Diverse Voices, the magazine’s first print anthology. Congratulations! Could you tell us what inspired you to write this story?
EG: The story was inspired by experience, and in fact is so close to my experiences that I didn’t bother to change the characters’ names. My aunt Ruth (my husband’s aunt, technically) was one of those rare people who can actually “put on” Christ, as Christians are called to do. Her death and her homegoing services were a powerful testimony to me. They were profoundly different from my prior experiences with funerals and death. Yet in some ways her burial was brutally frank and efficient, which made the material fact of her death equally telling, at least to me.
MT: In “0=1” there seems to be a dichotomy between science (fact) vs. religion (faith) and how both Betsy and Ruth handle Ruth’s cancer. Betsy turns to science and Ruth turns to religion. Could you explain why you chose to have these characters deal with cancer in such different ways?
EG: Again, I’ll have to defer to experience. I’ve been straddling that divide (between science and religion) since I was old enough to notice it. Moving to Lancaster and marrying into a Mennonite family only deepened the chasm. I always tease my kids that I’m a Scientific American because I subscribe to the magazine. Science informs me. In a sense, I am a true believer. Yet experience also informs me, and material explanations don’t fully account for my experiences. In fact, they fail especially where I need explanations the most (with due respect to SciAm, and while I’m at it Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and all the other science writers who illuminate the world for wannabes like me). So I am left always cycling, always looking. Always shaking the box and looking up for the prize.
MT: The theme of death and dying appears in “0=1”, what other themes do you gravitate toward in your work?
EG: Apparently I obsess over being alone. I didn’t realize it until recently when I put together a collection. Which is comical, because it’s the sort of thing I might have noticed. The characters in my stories are profoundly isolated—they are really a lost, stifled, baffled bunch. Finitude might be a better word for their problem.
MT: Anything you are working on now that you could tell us about?
EG: I’m beyond excited (and grateful) to say that Press 53 is publishing my story collection, The Universal Physics of Escape, this fall. It includes “0=1” and eight other stories. I’m also working on a middle grade novel, which is a refreshing change.
MT: Do you have any advice or words of encouragement for budding writers thinking about submitting to literary magazines and/or contests?
EG: I think submitting to contests is a great value. You get subscriptions out of it and a guaranteed close read and you support the magazines you love. It’s a very efficient way to submit and self-educate at the same time, and I find it helpful. I only submit to contests that have reasonable fees and are connected to publications I admire. Also, it’s widely understood but I have found that submitting takes a ridiculous amount of patience. I’ve had stories circulate for years before finding a home. It’s just the business. Stories are personal experiences and editors are people. Out of a whole crowd, you have to find the handful of people who are going to “get” you personally.
For all its demands, I do think that writing is a benign master. It helps you be the sort of person who pays attention. And that is its own reward, I think.
Thank you, Mardith!
Nice interview. I especially like the reality-check of how long it takes to submit and how long it takes to get accepted. Looking forward to reading your story in Solstice and your book from Press 53.