My boyfriend Jimmy is writing his dissertation on the cultural phenomenon of Graceland. He wants to compare the fan worship associated with Elvis to Joseph Smith and the invention of the Mormon Church; two ideas he claims are rooted in the same distinctly American pathology of raising up and tearing down idols. Jimmy has always wanted something to pray to, and although it’s unconventional, I guess Americana is as useful a framework as any if you can believe in it.
So begins Eva Gordon's short story, "Graceland University," in the current issue of The Battered Suitcase.
Eva grew up beside the ocean in Rhode Island. She is currently at work on her MFA in fiction writing from Spalding University. Her poetry has appeared in Prism Review and is forthcoming from Dew on The Kudzu. Her new book is from Adams Media will be available in January 2011.
Eva, at what point in your life did you realize you wanted to be a writer?
I think I always assumed I would be a writer, but I didn’t realize how much time it would take. As a child I thought, “Well, of course I’ll write books, but I’ll also have a fabulous career in x.” X changed often. I started my first novel at age nine, and published my first poem at ten.
Why do you write?
Because if I don’t, I become angry and depressed, and when I do, I feel like I am plugging into something true and old and in an invisible way, saving.
Is being a writer anything like you imagined it would be?
My father is a writer and growing up, I observed him planning, working, revising, and dealing with the world of publishing, which he never seemed to take too seriously. I feel lucky to have had his example so that when it came time for me to start sending out work, I knew, to some degree, what to expect.
What do you think makes a good story?
For me, it’s all about rhythm, language, and emotion.
What's your favorite genre to read?
I regularly read and write fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, but the genre I will always love best is playwriting. I am still working up the nerve to write a play.
Who is your favorite author or poet?
I love writers by seeing the differences between them, by hearing a voice and knowing what distinguishes it from the others. A couple of writers I look to for inspiration over and over are Truman Capote (for language), Anton Chekov (for character psychology), Ellen Gilchrist (for humor and rhythm), and J.D. Salinger (for dialogue). But writing this list is painful, because I must leave off loads of writers who have meant as much to me as any person.
Ah! I must name a few more: Dorothy Parker, John Updike, Leo Tolstoy, Mary Karr, Anne Sexton, Natalie Babbitt, Lucy Maud Montgomery, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Earnest Hemingway, Susan Orlean, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Pam Houston, E.B. White, Joan Didion, Arthur Miller, Edwidge Danticat, and Mary Yukari Waters.
What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
Here is a short, inadequate list: Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, The White Album by Joan Didion, Collected Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Portraits and Observations by Truman Capote, and Cowboys are my Weakness by Pam Houston. I could answer this better if I could see my bookshelf, but I am in an apartment in a small Spanish village, and my shipment of books is being held by immigration in Madrid.
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
The Autobiography of B.B. King—other biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs have influenced me as a person over the years. I love to read the stories of people’s lives, especially people whose accomplishments I admire. Also, my study of central and eastern European and post-colonial literature have had a developmental effect on my thinking about the world—in particular Karel Capek, Czeslaw Milosz, Bruno Shulz, Jean Rhys, Edward Said, Jamaica Kincaid have influenced my thinking as a person.
How do you find the most inspiration?
By reading, and by taking walks by myself. These walks are most beneficial if they are done in the countryside or in a large city. The idea is to turn down the white noise in my mind and turn up the awareness—that old “Be here now” concept.
What does your family think of your writing?
My parents are very supportive. I try not to force my writing on other members of the family.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I am ashamed to say that my schedule changes a lot. I think it would be much better to write at a specified daily time, preferably in the morning during those precious three or four hours of clarity.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
I like to have a few good books on the desk with me as I work.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
Yes! The number one challenge is listening to and obeying that little voice in my head that says, “Cut that line.”
What are your current projects?
I like to have several projects on the burners at once. At the moment I’m actively writing three short stories and a middle-grade novel, and several essays are stewing in my brain.
What are you planning for future projects?
I have many plans, but if I set them out into the air they may die.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Don’t settle until you’ve worked and waited, worked and waited, and until you know you have nothing more inside, that it’s all on the page.
Where can we find your work?
I have an essay in the 2010 annual prize issue of New Southerner, out this month, and a poem in the most recent issue of Prism Review. I also have a short story in the current issue of Pulse Literary Journal.
Eva currently lives in western Spain, teaching English to high school students, but you can visit her online at http://www.suite101.com/profile.cfm/evagordon