I interviewed Sarah Rose Etter, whose chapbook Tongue Party (Cake Train Press), recently sold out its first printing. Her writing has been described as beautiful, bizarre, and jarring. It is, however, never boring.
I was eager to get more insight on her approach to writing after reading her excellent story “Koala Tide.”
Shawn Proctor: In a recent article, The Atlantic delved into different artists’ process, from first draft to completion. Can you take us through your creative process?
Sarah Rose Etter: I have a hard time talking about process. Many writers have these things they say – and some of them are quite helpful – but they don’t really work for me. I do try to write frequently, I’ve been working hard at that, but it doesn’t really come out the same way as when an idea comes and I chew on it for a while.
When I get an idea, I turned it over in my head and try to look at all sides. Then a first line will come and I stew on that for even longer. And then when the first draft comes out, much of the story has already been shaped in my head. Obviously, there is revising and editing after that, but that’s basically my process.
SP: What element of fiction do you think is your greatest strength?
SRE: I guess tension – building up to something. Or else playing on the physical – sensations, tastes, that kind of thing.
I have a hard time stepping back and finding a strength or saying, “Oh, that really works for me.” You know? I tend to just write what comes and let that exist.
SP: How has attending fiction workshops and graduate creative writing education benefited your work?
SRE: It’s always good to learn the rules before you break them, and grad school was wonderful for that. It’s good to get feedback from people who aren’t familiar with your style, it’s good to be exposed to new things to read and write. It’s good to have people critique your work. All of those things help a writer get better, stronger.
What’s more, I left grad school with a fantastic friendship with Nate Green, who I still share and edit work with. So that was great.
SP: Do you find your work has an overarching theme or artistic goal that connects the stories? If so, how would you describe it?
SRE: I just want what I write to be new and not boring. I want people to be engaged, whether they’re repulsed or horrified or creeped out – I just want them to care about what they’re reading. I’d like my stories to be alive.
As far as theme, I know I was dealing a lot with hunger and language and consumption when I wrote Tongue Party. I wasn’t paying attention to it at the time, but stepping back and looking at the collection, it’s there.
SP: What’s your next project?
SRE: Tongue Party just came out as a Kindle eBook with two bonus stories, so I was spending a lot of time shaping those and fitting them into the collection. Otherwise, I’ve been working on a longer version of the chapbook that hopefully will become some sort of surreal novel. Plus some pieces on Ben Franklin.
SP: Now down to sentence-level issues. What word do you love? What word do you hate?
SRE: I love the word syphilis. That’s one of the softest words in the English language and if you strip the meaning off of it, it’s pretty beautiful.
I hate the word pickle. Probably because I genuinely and deeply despise pickles. God, just typing that word twice pissed me off. Look what you’ve done, Shawn!
The electronic version of Tongue Party is available at Amazon.