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10 Questions for Lauren Hohle

Hannah doesn't get on-campus housing for the summer, but she doesn't want to go back to Missouri, back to her old life, back in time. The summer before, her first summer after starting college, she sat in basements sipping Budweiser as her formerly bookish friends swapped stories about frat parties. She sat through each Sunday's sermon as the pastor built God's army out of straw men, drew conclusions her professors would have docked her points for.
—from "Inland," Volume 64, Issue 1 (Spring 2023)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I dreamed up a lot of stories when I was young but always kind of froze with the writing-it-down part. I somehow finagled my way into a creative writing independent study my senior year of high school. One of the stories I wrote involved a family road trip and a child realizing they can slip their fingers through the glass of the car window. It was also vaguely anti-war I think? (I was reading a lot of Vonnegut and Bradbury at the time.) The other story I remember was closer to my life—there was a general dissatisfaction with consumerism and a trip to Walgreen’s where the character stares at all the different kinds of chapstick and wonders, What’s the point of this? My first story I turned in to workshop in college was sort of a ghost story born out of learning of my friend’s sexual assault. It was called “Splash! The Ripples in the Water Are Really Ghosts.” I’m no longer this brave with my titles.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I’ve heard writers talk about the writers whose work granted them permission. Mavis Gallant and Alice Munro are those writers for me, even if “Inland” doesn’t read like a Gallant or Munro story.

I came to Gallant through the New Yorker Fiction podcast. I can remember this moment exactly—of feeling my brain on fire, of wanting to read everything. I was waiting for my train at the Tiu Keng Leng MTR in Hong Kong, where I was teaching English for a year. Her characters were often young expats who were ambitious, socialist, and annoyed with their British contemporaries. I printed story after story from the New Yorker archive, using my friend’s parents’ login. Shortly after, I read Alice Munro’s Lives of Girls and Women. These were the first texts I saw myself in, even though we’re from different places and generations. I also love (who doesn’t?!?) Munro’s story structures and how she uses time, especially her flash forwards.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I wanted to be a writer and illustrator like Tomie dePaola or Eric Carle. I saw interviews with them on PBS when I was in preschool. They impressed upon me that art was big, revered, important. I also spent a lot of time collating and stapling paper in my pretend office, so working at the Gettysburg Review makes perfect sense!

What inspired you to write this piece?
A lot of elements of my life went into this. I lived in Redlands, CA, one summer during undergrad and was very, very broke. I survived on burnt sandwiches and pizza from this terribly run restaurant where I worked (Surfer Joe’s) and boxes of pasta students threw out when they moved from the dorms. I lived in a disaster of a house that kept being passed down to students—no one ever officially moved out, so nothing was ever cleaned out. I also interviewed at Baskin Robbins and was told I was both too old and, in spite of scooping ice cream at a resort two summers earlier, I didn’t have enough relevant experience. Thirteen years later, it’s clear to me that I didn’t feel safe going home to a conservative Christian household. It’s also becoming clear to me how out of place I felt in my alternative education program at my liberal arts college, even while simultaneously feeling overjoyed with where I’d arrived. Like Hannah, a lot of my classmates were recruited to come to our college, went to prestigious boarding schools or were children of professors or, at the very least, democrats. In my Lutheran high school, we had to write papers on what the Bible said about current events and get two pastors to sign off on it. I wrote a pro gay marriage paper—they were not happy about this. I’d go home in college or look on Facebook and hear/find racist comments about Obama. The discrepancy between these two places felt like a secret.

I often have a craft question or concept that I play with when writing short stories. I’ve been accused of having passive characters (passive people are people too!) so I tried to lean into the action in this story—Hannah moves, Hannah drives, Hannah works, Hannah researches. I discovered that pairing all this action with her musings on Hell made both aspects feel more desperate.

I knew I wanted to use Siddhartha even before I read it as a tribute to my friend who passed away around the time I started writing this. One of my favorite memories of him was during college when we and some friends drove to the mountains to play in the snow. One person read some of the book out loud on the drive. It was a favorite of his.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I’m not exactly a regional writer, but my writing tends to be rooted in my experience as a Midwestern “expat.” So St. Louis has haunted my writing. I know the city is larger than the corner my childhood occupied, but I think a lot about that corner. In some ways, my writing is a response to having difficulty explaining what it was like living there to West Coast friends, particularly after Ferguson.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Not usually, but I somehow convinced myself recently that Moby’s “Bodyrock” was super important to a story I’m revising. (I don’t expect this to last!) I have another story that centers on Waylon Jenning’s cover of “The Bottle Let Me Down,” so I’ve listened to that over and over in order to soak up the tone.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My partner, the writer Matt Greene, or my writing group, which is made up of prose writers I met in Eastern Washington University’s MFA program.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I did an interdisciplinary BA in creative writing, film, and social justice, and started a student film collective. I hosted and participated in film challenges every month or so. I’d love to get back into it. I’ve also dabbled in book design and was one of those people who watched The Great Pottery Throw Down during lockdown, then took my first wheel throwing lesson once I was vaccinated. I now have membership at a local studio. I’ve found my writing life benefits when I have a low-stakes or separate creative outlet.

What are you working on currently?
“Inland” is part of a novel-in-stories I’ve been writing—a feminist bildungsroman set on either end of Route 66, first in St. Louis, Missouri, then in and around Los Angeles. All of the stories center on socialization—how she is socialized when she is young and how she resists and makes sense of her socialization as she grows older.

What are you reading right now?
I just finished Elif Batuman’s The Idiot and Either/Or, which I read out of order, but I loved them both. Batuman does such a great job with Selin’s voice—her ignorance, her intelligence, her self-awareness, her overwhelming desire and passivity. She really honors the age of her character, which is something that I’ve been thinking a lot about as I’ve been revising. Next on my list is Chilean Poet by Alejandro Zambra.


LAUREN HOHLE earned her MFA from Eastern Washington University. She has served on the editorial staffs of Big Fiction Magazine, Lynx House Press, Willow Springs Books, and the Gettysburg Review, where she is currently the managing editor. She is an alum of the Community of Writers at Olympic Valley and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her fiction and essays appear in or are forthcoming from Crab Creek Review, Santa Monica Review, Western Humanities Review, the Sun, and Allium, A Journal of Poetry and Prose. She is at work on a novel-in-stories.

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