Interview with Michelle Dove, Spring 2010
In Capital Letters: What authors, books, poems, stories do you return to again and again?
Michelle Dove: There are so many stories I read and reread—and months later reread again. Some of these are "I am Twenty-One" and "Yours" by Mary Robison, "Burning House" by Ann Beattie, "When we were Nearly Young" by Mavis Gallant, and "Love" by Grace Paley. I think I've read Denis Johnson's collection Jesus' Son at least ten times. I've lost track of how many times I've read anything by Amy Hempel.
ICL: What have you read most recently that has inspired you?
MD: Victor Lavalle's collection Slapboxing with Jesus truly impressed me. Recently I've read Lee K. Abbott's Strangers in Paradise and Elizabeth McCracken's Here's your Hat what's your Hurry. Both story collections, like many others I've read, evolved my understanding of what a short story is and what it can be.
ICL: What is your favorite and least favorite part of the writing process? The most surprising? The most challenging?
MD: Favorite: the second draft. Least favorite: realizing I didn't get it right the second time. Most surprising: that I didn't nail it on the fifth and sixth drafts either. Most challenging: believing in the stories that aren't there yet.
ICL: Your stories have at the forefront a powerful voice that guides the reader; a voice that carries with it an incredible authority and unique sound. How do these voices originate? How does a character begin in your stories?
MD: Sometimes a character comes out of one line that I think up or hear someone say. When I write this line down, I have some part of a character. If I'm lucky, I have the character's heartbeat—its driving force—from that one line. Usually, though, first lines only lead me in a direction of a character. I spend a lot of time chasing characters from that first line onward.
ICL: It seems that your stories are a mixture of a gritty urban sensibility and abstract/romantics concepts. How do you balance the two? How do your stories come to you? Is it by an image, a character, line, phrase, idea?
MD: Ideas never work for me. My characters often come out of one line, like I said, or from interactions with other characters. I like to get my characters talking, get them up and moving around. In terms of balancing sensibility, or the literal, with what's abstract, I require lines to have more than one purpose in a story. Whether a line describes a landscape or defines a character or calls forth some romantic idea, the line must do other things at the same time. My hope is that the literal and abstract will come to a head in the end—and the reader will see that the language was weaving the two together all along.
ICL: What have you learned while being part of this MFA program? How has it influenced your writing?
MD: This program has taught me invaluable lessons about writing, both in a larger sense of the writing industry (and the academic enterprise behind it) and in terms of my own writing. While I'm not quite sure where I or my writing fits in yet, my attitude and approach to writing has changed. I no longer see writing as having limitations, but I also don't see it as being wildly freeing. There's a give-and-take between what I write, or think I write, and what someone reads on the page. I'm constantly trying to narrow this give-and-take, meaning what I give and what language takes. I want to close the gap. The writers I have worked with at AU have proven to me that this can be done. They've convinced me that language is not sparring with me; it's bending for me; it's dancing with me; it's winking at me when I get something right; it's slapping my wrist when I get something wrong.
ICL: If your life had a theme song right now, what would it be?
MD: "Cake Shop Girl" by Swell Maps.
ICL: Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
MD: I've never had my ears pierced.
ICL: What projects are you working on right now?
MD: Mainly my thesis—a collection of 14 or 15 short stories.
ICL: If you weren't focused on writing, what would you be doing?
MD: Learning Russian or perfecting my radio voice.