• Q&A With WriteByNight Consultant Lydia Conklin



    Lydia Conklin, writing coach and consultantLydia Conklin (Princeton, New Jersey) has received a Pushcart Prize, work-study scholarships from Bread Loaf, and fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Corporation of Yaddo, the James Merrill House, the Vermont Studio Center, Millay, Jentel, the Astraea Foundation, the Puffin Foundation, Brush Creek, the Santa Fe Art Institute, Caldera, the Sitka Center, and Harvard University, among others. Her fiction has appeared in The Southern Review, Narrative Magazine, New Letters, The New Orleans Review, and elsewhere. She has drawn graphic fiction for Gulf Coast, Salt Hill, and the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. She holds an MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.



    Where did you study?

    I got my undergraduate degree at Harvard, and my MFA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


    How did you get your start as a writer?

    I wrote a poem in fourth grade that was set to an undersea-themed interpretive dance performed by children in papier-mâché fish heads. A sample stanza: “Laconically the fish do glide/Resting on the sleepy tide.”


    List some of your influences.

    Lorrie Moore, Joshua Ferris, Richard Yates, Carson McCullers, Alice Munro, Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, Edward St Aubyn. That’s a not a complete list, but in general the major players, and the people I return to over and over.


    What is the hardest part of writing for you?

    I often reach a point in a project where I suddenly think of a glorious idea for a new project, allegedly unconnected to the fact that I’ve just hit a speed bump in whatever I’m working on. I have several novels I abandoned at the forty thousand-word mark, which is the trouble spot for me, I guess. I just have to let that sexy other option glide out of my vision before I can fully be content working on what I’m supposed to be working on again.


    What is your strangest writing experience?

    Writing at a residency on the coast of Oregon when the power was out, charging my laptop at the generator a few times a day and eating limp pieces of tortilla cooked on a woodstove. There was no cell reception or Internet, so for about three days I was under the pounding rain in the rainforest with my scary novel and a refrigerator of rapidly aging food. This was the perfect situation in which to write, because what else could I do?


    What is your favorite word and why?

    For some reason: rubbery. When I’m editing I have to delete all these descriptions of things being rubbery. The idea of a rubbery item really appeals to me.


    What’s the last book you read and what did you think of it?

    I’m currently reading Susan Steinberg’s Spectacle and it’s blowing up my world. It’s addictive and absorbing and fierce and so exciting to read. It’s the kind of book I half hate reading because I can’t really do anything else while I’m reading it. Yesterday a friend asked what I was reading and I handed it to her and she became so absorbed that she wouldn’t give it back! Finally I wrenched it from her hands by force.


    Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?

    Write as much as you can until you get something decent. Then revise it and revise it and revise it. Put a piece away for a couple months when you finish a draft. Have several pieces going so you can always have something to work on while other projects are incubating. Whenever I look back at something I’ve put away I can’t believe I ever thought it was finished. I learned that trick from Stephen King’s book about writing, On Writing, and it’s helped me so much.


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