This writer hasn’t written any novels yet, and she’s actually intimidated by the whole process. However, she’s not someone we wanted to pass up the chance to interview. Melissa Goodrich is an amazing writer and author of Daughters of Monsters, a 199 page short story collection. She’s taught creative writing, composition, and humanities at the University of Arizona, Desert ROSE, and BASIS Tucson.
Here’s what she had to say about writing!
You have a B.A. in Creative Writing and an MFA in Fiction. When you were in school, did you ever second-guess that? Many of us English majors and the like get comments about our major choices.
You know, strangely enough, I did not. My undergraduate years at Susquehanna were pure magic. That program produces serious writers – and people who take you seriously as writers. Plus, growing up, my family was pretty artistic – my mother was crafty, my father loved to read, my siblings are both artists. I grew up with literature as a retaining wall. I found Anne Sexton mysteriously on my father’s bookshelves in the basement. My highschool boyfriend courted me with a play he wrote (that I think was called “Flirtations Over Sandalwood”?). I’ve kept a journal and penpals since gradeschool. In college, there were always students who would ask what you could do with a Creative Writing degree. But those questions seemed irrelevant to what reading and writing were for. Stories made sense out of life, made living less lonely.
You went on to teach. What drew you to teaching? Many people assume it’s just something you wind up doing once you exhaust other options, but it can be a fruitful career path, and a rewarding one.
Maybe I’m drawn to teaching because I’m drawn to teachers. And because I love learning, and power-point animations, and the cute fonts you can download off the internet for free. Maybe I’m drawn to teaching because those books you read as a 10-year-old stick with you for decades. Also because teaching 4th grade English is really fun. My students constantly amaze me – their thoughtfulness and their connections and their humor and the Rubik’s cube of figuring out how to help them grow.
What made you want to write novels? What did it provide that teaching didn’t?
I actually don’t write novels…(yet). I’m intimidated by the form. How does someone conceive of a story that goes on for 200 pages? How long does a draft, redrafting take? As a story-writer, I am a sentence-writer – each sentence pinwheels into the next and I get the sense novelists cannot be so anchored to their work at a sentence level. Novelists must be anchored to something – pages? Characters? An arc they’ve had a sense about for some time? The learning of a novel might take years (God, like years and years) and so many kinds of not-knowing. I’m probably going to try it soon. God help me.
Tim Burton Comparisons
Daughters of Monsters has been called the “Tim Burton of short story collections” by Georgie Evans. Why does the description fit, do you think?
Things Tim Burton and I probably have in common:
We’re into the weird
We’re described as “quirky”
People probably love us or hate us
Influenced by childhood tales
We tell strange, or dark, or creepy stories
You also write short stories and submit them to literary magazines. What’s your process for that? How do you go about it?
I have a monthly goal for myself – to write 1 new short story a month. I’ve been keeping track of my progress on notecards taped to my wall since 2014. What I’ve noticed is I might be a seasonal writer – meaning, there might be a time of the year where the writing I produce is generally stronger – like March tends to be a good month for some reason. And Jan-April tends to produce better writing than May-December. My process for submitting is simple. When the story feels finished and I read it again and I like the way I feel when I finish reading it, I send it into the world.
The number one excuse not to write is that people don’t have time. As someone who teaches, and still manages to write and publish her work, what would you say to this?
It’s not time as much as energy. Writing after a day of teaching and grading and emailing and lesson planning is like going for a run after hiking a cliffside all day. It’s really hard. It’s much easier to watch Parks and Rec on Netflix and make mac and cheese out of a box. However, I feel like writing is kind of pleasurable when you are “sneaking away” from something else to do it. Like, that feeling of I could be grading these comma quizzes, orrrr…. I will say, it was all but impossible my first year teaching full-time to find the time/energy to write. But I make pacts with myself during the school week now (not allowed to bring the work laptop home Monday-Thursday), make writing dates with other teacher-writer friends, and my 1-story-a-month deadline proves pretty effective. I like deadlines. I feel I owe it to those notecards taped to my wall.
Are you currently working on anything new?
Yes! I’m working on a collaborative short-story collection with the amazing Dana Diehl (check out her website, and her work – you won’t regret it). Since we are both elementary school teachers, we can’t help thinking about school all the time – and wanted to write some strange and magical stories about it. So far we have stories about a floating-away school, an underground school beneath the real school, a school mascot that devours its wearer, a teacher who has a swarm of bees as a student, and a school where all the students try not to turn into animals. We each write the first half of a story and then ‘pass’ it to the other, with full trust that she will finish it in whatever way she deems fit. It has been unequivocally the most fun I’ve ever had writing. Dana Diehl is pure delight.
We have a large aspiring writing following. What advice would you share with those just starting out, trying to make a name for themselves?
Writing Workshops can be really helpful – to a certain point. It’s important to learn the skillsets, to read a lot, to hear what your (potential) readers will be thinking – but there comes a point where your particular style will emphasize certain elements of writing more than others – embrace those, hone in on those, make them into your signature.
Find writers you love so much you hug their books when you finish reading them. Figure out what made you want to hug those books because that’s what you should be emulating. Reach out to those writers and tell them how much you loved their work. Ask to interview them. They might say yes. They are probably really nice people.
Read a lot. Support small presses. Read literary journals. Buy from local bookstores.
Write a lot. But know: you don’t have to write every day, or for a certain amount of words, to be a real writer.
Find out who your real readers are, even if there are only like 4 of them right now.
Know that when you’re not writing, you are still a writer. Pay attention to the world.
When you are writing, write what you can’t stop reading. Write what makes your heart squinch up. Write experimentally, just for the hell of it. Nothing is wasteful. Not everything will be publishable. Thank God not everything will be publishable.
Keep In Touch
We can’t begin to thank Melissa Goodrich enough for taking the time to answer our questions. She’s a busy woman, and she still agreed to the interview!
If you’d like to keep tabs on Goodrich, please follow her at the links she provided. And remember, she said to be a writer, you have to write, read, and keep at it!
What are you waiting for? Get to your computer!