An Unlikely Interview with Victorya Chase

At its core, Gemma Bugs Out seems to be a story about characters in transition -- between human and insect, between grief and acceptance, between fear of commitment and love. It also seems to be a story about characters struggling to find their place in the world, and ultimately deciding on a more liminal and shifting existence. Are these themes you deliberately set out to explore, and if so, why? If the story unfolded without those specific goals in mind, how did it come to be?

This was a question that had me go ‘huh,’ lean back, and think a bit. I hadn’t set out to write a story with such themes. The initial inspiration for the story came from an article about how The Bachelor has been on for twelve years. I began to think there had to be someone out there who has seen every episode over these twelve years and I really wondered who they were.

However, those themes are something I’ve been dealing with recently in my life. I have always felt in-between and never like I belonged in one camp or the other. From race and socio-economic status to sexuality and gender, I tend to slide more between definitions than have any solid singular idea of ‘self’ along those lines. I’ve been working on accepting that place between definitions, as it were, and it seeped through into the story.

You’re currently engaged in a fascinating literary experiment, co-writing a poem via Twitter as if the poem were a game of chess. Could you talk a bit about this project, how it came to be, and what you’ve learned, or how it’s changed your writing method thus far?

It started because I had just taken on a new position, and my friend Adam made it out of the adjunct pool and is now an official instructor. I think we wanted a way to keep writing, and had written poetry together while in our MFA program. Part of that initial inception was to force us to write at least one line each week, the other part was to slow writing down a bit because I think too often we see a lot of rushed work (both in our times as slushers and in our own writing), especially when a ‘keeping up with the joneses’ mentality of publishing kicks in.

One thing I learned is I’m not the most disciplined writer. I had just moved, and haven’t kept to a schedule as much as I’d like. It’s also frustrating to not know what the next line is going to be to plan accordingly – I like to plan. At the same time, it’s exhilarating to not know and have to then scrap whatever idea I might have had and go with what’s in front of me, which I think is also a good metaphor for writing and editing. Sometimes the planned writing isn’t the freshest, and it’s okay to give up ideas and form new ones when it’s for the good of the story. It’s also good to give up control every once in a while, which this is forcing me to do.

Authors are notorious for working strange jobs. Stephen King was a janitor and J.D. Salinger worked as the entertainment director on a luxury cruise line. What’s the weirdest job you’ve ever had, and did it inspire any stories or teach you anything you’ve used in your writing?

I was a Credit Hostess for a department store as it was going through its last gasps of life. This meant I set up a table in the middle of an equally dying mall and gave away cheap gifts in exchange for completed credit card applications. There were many tricks to being successful in that job, not all ethical, but all handed down with great seriousness. One summer the circus came to the mall, another attempt to save it before it went under, and I was sent outside to have my booth alongside the circus tents. While I’ve written many an unsuccessful story about the circus part of my youth, it did expose me to life for those between the cracks and began a lifelong discovery, in person and writing, about those who just aren’t meant to live inside the definitions others put upon them.

One of the perennial points of contention in the world revolves around education -- who should get educated (and to what degree), what should be taught, who should be excluded. Meanwhile, children in their classrooms ask, “Why do I need to know this?” Tell us one obscure thing you learned in school that you think is important, and why.

Oooh, another good question, especially since I am also a teacher who tends to err on the non-conventional side.

I actually think many things I learned were important and apply to writing and my career. For example, I loved mathematics throughout most of my schooling, and find there is a need for it in writing. For one, it can provide us with different narrative structures because mathematical formulas are a type of narrative. Also, having that background allows me to see formulas a lot easier- in writing as well as other subjects, because many things do have formulas (conversations with people are another example, especially office ones, they follow a prescribed way to communicate for the most part).

That aside, even though I went to public school we were taught from The Bible as in Literature which I think was invaluable. I haven’t met many others who, in high school, were taught religious texts. By going over the Quran, Bible, Bhagavad-Gita, and some Taoist texts I was taught the importance of all religious thought and how it influences writing. It also provided me with the tools to better understand writing from various cultures.

We all have our favorite authors, some of whom everyone has heard of, and some of whom are relatively obscure. Who is one of the more obscure writers you love? What do you love about their work? Tell us which story or novel of theirs we should drop everything to read right now.

How about a more obscure book from a writer many people know? I loved The Neverending Story by Michael Ende, and many in my age bracket kind of grew up on the movie. But Michael Ende’s Momo has become a big part of my own literary canon, one I go to again and again. It is one of those books that reads like a simple fairy tale, and like all fairy tales the more you go back to it the less simple you realize it really is.

We all start somewhere, and the learning curve from first publication is a steep one. What’s your first ever published work, and how do you feel about it now?

If we go by way back and not professional publication, I think someone found a poem I wrote (a parent snooping through my bedroom) and printed it in a newsletter they ran for the community. Aside from that, I think when I started getting serious I wrote a haibun that was published in a magazine back in 2007. I don’t mind that it’s out there. It was reviewed by someone, and while the review wasn’t completely positive it was still proof that my work had been read and that was encouraging.

What else are you working on have coming up you want people to know about?h

I’m keeping my keeping my website updated, so more of my writing can be found there at victoryachase.com.

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