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10 Questions for Stephanie MacLean

“I wouldn’t be in this cult if it weren’t for Bob Dylan. It was forbidden to call The Tribes a cult, but occasionally, hovering over tired feet and yanking at the seat of her pantaloons, my mother would mutter the words under her breath while folding laundry or stirring a large pot of cabbage soup.” From "The Tribes," Summer 2019 (Vol. 60, Issue 2)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
My first published short story, “Blue,” has sentimental value since it was based on my husband’s very lovely, but quite decrepit Shar Pei of the same name. It was written in second person, which is usually frowned upon, but an East Hampton newspaper published it and I was grateful.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I remember going to a reading at Pete’s Candy Shop and hearing a reading from Megan Mayhew Bergman from her collection, “Birds of a Lesser Paradise,” and was so inspired—by her talent, her career, and personality. I’m also inspired by individual short stories I have read throughout the years that have stayed with me, such as: Carmen Maria Machado’s piece “The Husband Stitch,” Zadie Smith’s “Escape from New York,” and, of course, Shirley Jackson’s, “The Lottery.”

What other professions have you worked in?
In my last semester of college, I was studying to be an on-air correspondent for television. I was interning for PBS and was set to put a reel together and send it out, but then I was chosen for The View’s “PA for May” contest. I didn’t win, but was then determined to move to New York City. I didn’t complete the reel, telling my parents not to worry, that I was going to secure an assistant job in Manhattan. They thought I was crazy, but I ended up becoming an executive assistant at NBC/Universal. I then worked as an assistant at a literary agency and then became an agent.

What inspired you to write this piece?
Through extended family, there is someone currently in a commune that greatly inspired this piece. I am riveted by the idea of people needing to lead and be led—by religion, by political parties and more. Who leads and who follows, how it starts and where it ends. Now, they don’t know I’ve written about them, so please keep it just between us.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
There is Manhattan, with its history and tradition of the urban writer and artist, but the Hamptons is where my heart is. The lushness, the ocean, and especially the light. When you stand in front of the art studio of Lee Krasner and Jackson Pollock at their home in Springs and look over the Acabonac Harbor, you understand how inspired they were and why they produced their most prolific work there. I came from Windsor, Canada; a sister automotive city to Detroit, which is today very much a part of the American Rust Belt which has also had an impact on me and my writing.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
Usually every short story has a song to pull me into the fictional world I am creating. I should name some esoteric, obscure band, but I’m a 90s girl and think it was “No Rain” by Blind Melon on repeat.

Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
I try not to be superstitious about it, but I think the most important ritual is to just get the words down—on paper, on a laptop, on the notepad in my phone. Productivity in this industry is elusive, but I love a quote from Alec Baldwin that there isn’t some showbiz commission that is going to knock on your door and inquire if you have talent. There is no literary commission seeking me out. I have to be the one knocking.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My husband! He is an architect and artist, totally out of the publishing world. He has a fantastic eye and a broad knowledge of art but occasionally a sharp tongue. He once crossed out a paragraph in a piece of mine and wrote the word “CRINGE” in red. He’s lovely, but ouch.

What are you working on currently?
Not surprisingly, I have completed a collection of short stories about women artists—inspired by the likes of Zaha Hadid, Lee Miller, and Anna Coleman Ladd.

What are you reading right now?
I recently finished “The Flamethrowers,” by Rachel Kushner, “The Italian Teacher,” by Tom Rachman, “Bad Boy,” by Eric Fischl and “Hold Still,” by Sally Mann. Currently reading “The Pout Pout Fish” for extracurricular reasons.

STEPHANIE MACLEAN is working on a collection of short stories about women artists. Pieces from that collection have been published in the Gettysburg Review, Chicago Tribune’s “Printers Row,” and Camera Obscura Journal. She divides her time between Manhattan and Sag Harbor, NY.

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