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10 Questions for Lauren K. Watel

But her features were falling off her face and her lap was sliding off her legs and her voice shifted, as if the ground were dropping away, and she slipped inside her skin a little, as if the mask were too big, and the air rippled with voices and the clatter of clean plates and the clink of glasses, To your health! . . . from “But her feelings,” Volume 60, Issue 3 (Fall 2019)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
In college I took a playwriting class and wrote a really goofy piece about a farmer who fell in love with one of his chickens.  I have no idea where that came from—really, I shudder to think.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Unfortunately, that’s hard to say, because I tend to read a ton—often random writers recommended by friends--and then I promptly forget what I just read.  When you can’t remember a book after you close the cover, it’s hard to say who influences you. 

I will say that the writers who excite me most right now are those who, under pressure of their own ambition, skill, and limitations, end up with work that innovates in their medium and/or mixes genre.  Rachel Cusk in fiction and Toi Derricotte in poetry come to mind.

What other professions have you worked in?
I lingered in grad school for an obscenely long time, obviously to avoid adulthood.  After taking every possible extension and finishing my PhD, much to the surprise of my committee members, I worked as a preschool teacher for a number of years.  I taught in a twos and threes class, which meant that daily I said things like, “Sit on your bottom,” and “Use your words.”  Great advice for any age, in my opinion.

What did you want to be when you were young?
Of course, I wanted to be an Olympic track star!  How I thought I would accomplish this goal, I’m not sure, since I never went out for track but played softball instead.  Unfortunately, I hated softball and wasn’t very good at it, but my friends played softball, so there you are, another example of the foolish decision making that has dogged me my whole life.

What inspired you to write this piece?
I was writing short pieces, including this one, first thing in the morning as a sort of statement to myself.  (The statement said something like, “Hey, if the first thing you do is write, then you must be a writer.”)  I was writing them very fast, in a kind of trance.  Purposefully so, without stopping, without thinking.  Mainly because I’d never written that way before, I was way too uptight and controlling, meticulously slow, I lingered over every comma, every “the,” so I gave myself this exercise of de-anal-ing, as it were, and I ended up with very strange material I don’t think I could have gotten any other way.  So the very idea was not to be inspired by anything but just to let myself go, to get to the weird and troubling stuff in my unconscious, if that makes sense.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Not really.  But I did write a whole lot of blather by hand recently, filling three different notebooks, in Rome.  Which is a very inspiring place, all that history everywhere you look, there’s no escaping it, and the light, so gorgeous and gentle and painterly, and the food, well, you get my drift.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
When I write I always, always wear headphones and listen to music.   I often work in coffee shops, so music beamed directly into my ears creates a lovely soundscape and helps me focus.  As for specific music, I listen to whatever my son tells me to listen to, he’s twenty-three and terribly hip, with amazing, wide-ranging taste. Thank goodness for him.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
In my archival research for my dissertation I encountered an ancient Latin spell that, if uttered with the correct pronunciation, opens the window to the muse and enables you to write brilliantly for hours without food or sleep.  I utter this spell each day before sitting down to write.  I am happy to share this incantation with anyone interested for the small fee of. . .

Okay, not really.  The real answer to the question is no.  I guess I’m boring.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My best friend, Louis.  He’s pretty much the perfect reader, extremely supportive and encouraging, super smart, incisive, funny and, best of all, not afraid tell me the truth, even if I bristle.  Which I do, alas, but then I get over myself and get to work on revisions.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
That’s a tough one, because I love to sing, especially harmonies, so being a musician would be natural for me.  But I also have crazy urges to dance, even though I’m too old, but so what, I’d just love to be a dancer and do odd contorted motions in costume while strangers wonder what it means.

LAUREN K. WATEL is a poet and fiction writer, as well as an occasional essayist and translator, who lives in Decatur, GA. Her piece is from a collection called Potions (potion = poem + fiction).

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