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10 Questions for Molly Quinn

" The Double Dealer is back in the hospital. He stands at attention in his three-piece suit, waiting to greet the incoming staff. I’m his favorite nurse because my name starts with D. " —From "Therapeutic Recreation" Summer 2018 (Volume 59, Issue 2)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The very first story I remember writing was about a princess whose kingdom is terrorized by a dragon. She sets out on a mission to fight him, but when they finally meet she gives him a hug instead.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I’m sure everything I read influences me, but I’ve never tracked my style. I read as widely as possible and approach my writing with curiosity and openness. Sometimes when I’m working on dialogue I flip through Roddy Doyle’s Barrytown Trilogy because it’s so natural, he makes everyone else sound canned. I love Elizabeth Strout because she makes wise observations about human behavior and often writes about mental health. Other voices that are always in my head include Zadie Smith, Carson McCullers, Stephanie Vaughn, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Anne Enright.

What other professions have you worked in?
Before I became an RN, my job titles included secretary, bookseller, fish monger, nanny, and lifeguard.

What did you want to be when you were young?
A writer.

What inspired you to write this piece?“Therapeutic Recreation” is set in the hospital where I work. One shift, my colleague told me about the time she found an old wedding dress in the closet. She said everyone tried it on, all the staff and some of the patients, and it sounded like such a sweet moment of connection. I jotted the idea in my notebook right away.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Minneapolis, the Mississippi, the Washington Avenue Bridge, Lake Superior, Deva Realm, Hell Realm, Hungry Ghost Realm, the unconditioned.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Always! I make a playlist for every story I write and listen to it like a soundtrack. Much of my writing time is spent with my headphones on and eyes closed, imagining scenes. The soundtrack to “Therapeutic Recreation” is: “Take Me Down To The Hospital” by The Replacements, “Workin’ Woman Blues” by Valerie June, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways, “Pills” by the New York Dolls, “Talking Hard Work” by Woody Guthrie, “Cherry Chapstick” by Yo La Tengo, “Camera” by R.E.M., “Girl, You Have No Faith In Medicine” by the White Stripes, “Madhouse” by Eleni Mandell, “Hospital” by The Modern Lovers, “Psycho Therapy” by The Ramones, “I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers, and “Archie, Marry Me” by Alvvays.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I start the day at my local meditation center, where I sit for at least an hour. Meditation helps me relax my controlling tendencies and cultivate a receptive mind. Then I head to the coffee shop for oatmeal and caffeine. I wear headphones even when I’m not listening to music so people won’t talk to me. I set a timer and write for three fifty-minute intervals every day. I made a rule that I have to pause the timer if I get up to refill my coffee or check something online, and it really keeps me on track.

What are you working on currently?
I’m getting close to completing this collection, which I’m calling “A Danger to Ourselves,” after my story that was published in the Iowa Review. I think this is the right title because it addresses the misconception that people with mental illness are violent to others, when in reality they’re more likely to be victims or hurt themselves. The entire collection is themed around mental health. Many of the stories are set in the psych ward where I work, and some are interconnected. Others are about those coping with issues like alcoholism, chronic pain, and sex addiction outside of the hospital. I’ve also started outlining a novel, which I won’t say much about except that the protagonist is a nurse.

What are you reading right now?
I’m finishing Motherhood, by Sheila Heti, and I love it so much I’ll probably read it again.

MOLLY QUINN'S fiction has been published or is forthcoming in The Iowa Review, Kenyon Review Online, Post Road, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. She’s currently working on a collection of short stories set in a psychiatric hospital, which draws on her experience as a registered nurse. She lives in Minneapolis.


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