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Literature | In Capital Letters, 2011 March


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    Rangel-Mullin, Rebecca
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Interview with Sara Blaisdell

In Capital Letters: What is your favorite and least favorite part of the writing process?  The most surprising?  The most challenging?

Favorite part: falling in love with a character from real life and trying to make that person real on the page.  And that moment late at night you get excited about something you’re working on, before you wake up the next morning and realize it’s incoherent babbling.  The most challenging parts for me are structure and plot and creating scenes and meaning-making.

ICL: Please tell us which writer has most influenced your approach to writing, your writing itself and your outlook on life?

The poet that got me reading poetry was Carlos Drummond de Andrade.  He uses simple language that is funny and beautiful at the same time.  My favorite novel is Brady Udall’s The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint.  And Kent Haruf’s Plainsong is great, too. 

ICL: You've tried your hand at poetry, fiction and non-fiction but have had the most success in the field of non-fiction with your essay "Brothers from Another Planet" being featured in This American Life. What was it like working on this piece?

I wrote it for Rachel Louise Snyder’s Literary Journalism course.  I knew I wanted to write about three brothers in Iraq, but when I told Rachel my husband has been talking to them on the phone for several years, she encouraged me to write about that relationship.  My favorite part was recording interviews—there is so much I wish I could have included in the story.  It was hard getting the tone right, writing about an environment I know so little about.  I would say it was one of the most difficult and wonderful writing experiences I’ve had. 

ICL: How do your stories come to you?  For example, is it by an image, character, line, phrase, idea?

Usually dialogue from real conversations.  I’m also interested in people trying to figure themselves out and control themselves—through cleansing machines, repentance, treatment programs—and the weird unintended outcomes.  Most of my stories involve just two or three people chatting and planning.  I’m trying to get them to do more.

ICL: Do you have a set writing schedule or any writing rituals?

Hopefully someday I will.  I need deadlines, because without them I never finish anything.  Lately I’ve just been staring at unfinished stories and poems from 2002. 

ICL: If your life had a theme song right now, what would it be?

Probably Basement Jaxx “Red Alert,” or something by Frank Black.  If I could turn in a satchel full of Frank Black lyrics for my thesis, I would. 

Sara Blaisdell