Monday, 30 May 2011
Ethel Rohan in Interview
Today I have the privilege of interviewing Ethel Rohan, a writer and editor from Ireland who makes her home in San Francisco, with her husband and two daughters. She says of her own work: "My stories and writing center on the body—its joys, secrets, memory, urges, drives, and horrors. In writing about the body, my hope is to reveal the human psyche and ultimately to give testimony to the human spirit."
Welcome, Ethel. Tell me about your début short story collection Cut Through the Bone.
Thank you, Nuala, for inviting me here today. It’s an honour and a pleasure. Cut Through the Bone is a collection of thirty very short stories set largely in modern-day America. The stories are grounded in loss and the body and centre on the missing. I am fascinated by empty spaces and the voids both visible and invisible.
And your latest book, the just released, Hard to Say. What was the genesis of that book and was it difficult to write?
The title, Hard to Say, is apt. Along with the imagined, I consciously drew on memory and experience for the fifteen linked stories in this tiny collection. The cover for this little book is also apt. While these stories are fiction, they give voice to past pain and say much of what I never thought I could say. I struggled with why and how to write these stories, knowing they might disturb readers and my loved ones. Change is impossible though without disturbance.
The cover image for Cut Through the Bone is very striking. Can you tell me about it?
Both my book covers are the work of the brilliant young artist, Siolo Thompson. Siolo read both my book manuscripts and thereafter created these original covers. I am thrilled and honoured to have my stories bound between these gorgeous works of art. Perhaps what I most love about the cover for Cut Through the Bone is that it’s as layered, complex and intense as I believe the stories in the book to be.
Why do you write?
I write for many selfish and shallow reasons: to be known; to feel good about myself; to be considered ‘good’ by others; to get the high that creating gives; to feed and stroke my ego. I also write because I believe I was put on this earth to make and share my stories. I’ve long stopped trying to figure out the ‘really?’ and the ‘why’ of the latter and instead try to write meaningful works that affect and matter.
What is your writing process – morning or night – longhand or laptop?
I can no longer write at night. If I work at night, I have an even harder time than usual falling and staying asleep. I write throughout the day whenever my daughters are at school and as much as I can during our crazy weekends. When writing, I’m mostly at my desk, on my desktop. I don’t write nearly as much longhand as I once did. However, every now and then, especially for new stories, I’ll take paper and pen and go at the blue-lined page. I also sometimes write longhand with my non-dominant hand, a supposed surer path to our sub-conscious.
Which short story would you like to see on the Leaving Cert exam?
That story would ideally be by a contemporary Irish woman writer.
Who is your favourite woman writer?
Right now, I’m besotted with Margaret Atwood and can’t get enough of Caitlin Horrocks.
What is your favourite bookshop? (In the USA and in Ireland.)
In San Francisco, it’s the wonderful Green Apple Books. I’ve spent years in this wonderful neighbourhood bookstore, yearning after writers and drooling over great books, and spending way too much money and never having enough time there. It was fantastic, then, to have my first reading from Cut Through the Bone at Green Apple Books.
In Ireland, my favorite bookstore is long gone. I grew up in Phibsboro and can still feel the long ago wonder and thrill of buying ten pence books from Bob’s Bargains on Doyle’s Corner. I bought every Agatha Christie, Harold Robbins and Penguin Classics title they ever sold, and countless other books.
What one piece of advice would you offer beginning writers?
Only two things make you a writer: reading and writing. Publishing brings its perks and its pitfalls, but does not make you a writer. Show up every day to read and write and banish all anxiety and self-doubts, you’ve answered the call to write and you are a writer. Now go to it.
A great answer and I totally agree! What are you working on now? Any plans to write a novel?
I recently ‘finished’ a third story collection manuscript and a novel manuscript. We’ll see what happens when I finally send out both works … somewhere.
Thanks so much, Ethel, for being with me today. Ethel's books can be bought here and here.