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10 Questions for Kieran Mundy

In the country, I could be better. I could learn to weave baskets and identify edible plants. I could learn to sew, to sing, to wear my hair in loose braids that tickle my bare shoulders.

Believe me, I know how it sounds. I know my reasons for wanting this life seem foolsih, too close to fantasy from the very beginning. Would it help if you imagined me as your wife? Your daughter? Your sister? By all means, go ahead. Imagine me what you will.
—from "It's More Afraid of You Than You Are of It," Volume 63, Issue 3 (Fall 2022)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
My earliest work was actually in “songwriting." I went through a big Garage Band phase when I was 8 or 9, maybe? Lots of slant rhymes. Lots of descriptions of middle-childhood. The first story I can recall writing was in high school. It was about a girl with testing anxiety who accidentally spends the entire SATS peeling an orange, ruminating on her mistakes. Poorly disguised nonfiction.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I feel like the way I write has changed immensely even over just the last two years. When I first started writing seriously I was very into writers like Hempel, Moore, Bartheleme, and Carver, writers doing that sort of mid-80s, white-space, minimalist thing. I learned a lot about how to write flash fiction that way, which ended up being important for me. But some books that have played a larger part in the collection I’m finishing up at the moment would be Samantha Hunt’s “The Dark Dark,” Dantiel W. Moniz’s “Milk, Blood, Heat,” Rachel Yoder’s “NightBitch,” Porochista Khakpour’s “Sick,” Kate Folk’s “Out There,” and Morgan Thomas’ “Manywhere.”

What other professions have you worked in?

I’ve worked mostly in the service industry and in outdoor education, leading overnight wilderness trips and doing leadership development-y stuff. I spent the first year of the pandemic working as a wilderness therapy field guide in the high desert of Oregon, which was one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. For the most part, though, I’ve found that the service industry is—counterintuitively, maybe?—more conducive to a rich creative life. I live in a mountain town, which means tourists, which means that, sadly, serving jobs pay better than most other work, including, by a long shot, teaching. It’s pretty bananas work–-the way customers say things to a server they’d never even imagine saying to a human under other circumstances, but it’s flexible and the people are interesting.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to be a famous person or a talk show host who interviews famous people. Also, an interior designer. I spent a large portion of my childhood making mood boards for my room, sketching out how I wanted to arrange the furniture. Writing never occurred me. I was, as a kid, pretty taken with the idea of having money. 

What inspired you to write this piece?
This story was shaped by the landscape and culture of small New England towns. It was one of the first stories I wrote after leaving New Hampshire for graduate school on the West Coast, and I was spending a lot of time thinking about the differences between Oregon and where I’d grown up. To me, the West Coast is wild in a different way than New England is wild. There’s something distinctly New England-y about wilderness and domesticity overlapping or crashing into each other in a way that feels almost claustrophobic. Maybe that’s just any rural place, but I did start this piece while back East for Christmas, visiting my parents. Whenever I visit, my dad, in particular, always seems to have a story about some local wildlife incident. I think the wolf was an exaggerated amalgamation of these anecdotes.

I was also, at the time, starting to think about how mythology and fairytale work in contemporary fiction. I’d recently read Carmen Maria Machado’s “The Husband Stitch,” which does this so beautifully. My story is obviously playing off The Boy Who Cried Wolf, but in a way that (I hope) complicates some ideas about what truth is, about who we believe and why.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
In addition to New England, I’m pretty fascinated by the town in which I currently live—Bend, Oregon. Bend is a destination for people who work remotely and build their lives around “the outdoors.” It’s a big recreation area—folks will move here to be close to skiing and climbing opportunities—which means lots of implicit and explicit ableism.“Wellness culture,” in all of its insidiousness, is also a big thing in Bend. Living in a place like this with a chronic illness has had an enormous impact on my writing. That, and the fact that climate change is so visible here, particularly during wildfire season, which is lengthening. It’s fascinating—and really troubling—to be surrounded by people who build their lives and personal bands around outdoor adventure at the same time as these spaces they’re making money off of are literally crumbling because of it. This sort of intentional and really devastating compartmentalization, particularly when it comes to our own destruction, is showing up in my work a lot lately.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Caffeination is important. In an ideal world, I’m starting in on my first cup of coffee just as I’m sitting down to write. Sometimes in the winter I’ll light a candle. And it’s important that I have the books I’m trying to speak to through my story out next to me on the desk, even if I don’t open them. I can’t be too hot or cold or too hungry or too full or too tired or too revved up. It’s honestly a miracle I’ve ever written anything because I feel like my needs are very Goldilocks.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My dear friend and colleague Emma Stockman. We don’t read or give notes in the same ways, and I’m learning to understand this as a gift.

What are you working on currently?
I’m finishing up a collection of short stories about food, power, place, illness, and language. I’m also very, very slowly starting a novel about the intersection of the wellness industry, capitalism and climate change. 

What are you reading right now?
I just finished Elisa Albert’s “Human Blues,” and I’m halfway through “How to Pronounce Knife” by Souvankham Thammavongsa and “Rainbow Rainbow” by Lydia Conklin.

KIERAN MUNDY’s writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, Joyland, Hayden’s Ferry Review, and elsewhere and has been recognized by in Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2017 and 2019. She is the recipient of Gulf Coast’s 2020 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose, judged by Jenny Offill. She graduated in 2019 with an MFA in fiction from the University of Oregon and has received funding and support for her work from the Vermont Studio Center and Craigardan. She currently lives in Bend, OR, where she is at work on a short story collection and a novel.

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