Seeing pain as a wild animal
By Monica Prince
In the midst of hundreds of submissions to the 2017 Literary Awards Program, Kate Wisel’s manuscript Driving in Cars with Homeless Men caught the eye of judge Benjamin Percy. Wisel’s work, a linked short story collection, was selected as one of two runners-up in the contest. The Boston-bred girls in these stories learn to know themselves only through their connections with each other. Like pool balls, they break apart to come back together again. The both empowered and disempowered characters in these stories suffer from the knowledge that their love is often misguided, and that they seek home where there is none. They believe romance is not intimate and that intimacy is not romantic. They are dangerous in their choices, though they always strive to be better.
Wisel’s work has appeared in Redivider as the winner of the Beacon Street Prize, Bartleby Snopes where she was awarded “Story of the Month” and nominated for a Pushcart Prize, the Boston Subway as winner of the “Poetry on the T” contest, and elsewhere. She has received scholarships to attend the Wesleyan Writer’s Conference, the Juniper Institute, the Squaw Valley Writer’s Workshop, and the Writing by Writer’s fellowship. You can find out more about Wisel on her website.
In this interview with the Santa Fe Writers Project’s Monica Prince, Wisel talks through her writing road and why she chose to enter the SFWP contest.
Monica Prince: Where are you from? Where do you live now?
Kate Wisel: I’m originally from Boston but live in Chicago where I’m finishing my thesis semester of my MFA at Columbia College Chicago.
MP: What is your educational and work background? Have either of these had an impact on your relationship with writing?
KW: I dropped out of Emerson College when I was twenty, and shortly after that entered an outpatient treatment program as I was struggling with trauma-related issues. The program was hard; I learned less about trauma and more about pain and how to deal with it. Pain fascinates me because we’re taught not to look at it, to reject it. Looking at my own pain caused me to fear it less, and then I saw it everywhere and how it applies to everything.
Pain is useful if you can approach it the way you do some kind of wild animal: open yourself to it, try to understand it. That’s what I try to channel in my writing, a conduit for pain so that it’s allowed the chance to become something greater, or at the very least, something worth looking at.
MP: How did you first get involved with writing? What does your writing practice look like?
KW: After I dropped out of college, I decided to take a creative writing night class with a woman named Jenn De Leon. She did what the best teachers do: saw me, believed in me. I started making writing my priority by writing, of course, but also interning at a writing school in Boston, going back to school and then pursuing my MFA, applying to workshops and meeting writers who were on the same track and wanted to challenge each other and keep up with it.
I guess I’m taking this literally, but my day-to-day writing process probably looks like someone in a jail cell: pacing around like a nut, talking to themselves, sometimes laughing maniacally, banging shit against the wall. It can be sort of glorious if you ask me.
MP: What are you working on now?
KW: I’m working on a novella about a husband who is cheating on his wife with heavy metal music. He’s using violence as an outlet both inside and outside his relationship. It’s in a very early stage so I don’t trust it much right now. It started as a short story, and a wise person pointed out that there is potential for expansion, with all that was going on with the material. I want to see where it goes.
MP: Do you have a job other than writing?
KW: I teach writing and rhetoric to undergraduates, assistant teach, babysit, and work as an assistant for rock journalist Jim DeRogatis. But these jobs are always shifting. I like having a mix of part-time jobs to stay afloat.
MP: Why did you decide to enter the Literary Award Contest with SFWP? What do you plan to do with the prize money? How do you think submitting to contests impacts your future writing life?
KW: I entered because “Refresh, Refresh” was one of the stories assigned in that creative writing night class I took. And I was so impressed with Benjamin Percy’s writing. His book had its own language and way of expressing aggression that inspired me.
With the prize money—it’s already gone. Oh man. I did the backwards reinvestment because I had taken out some money to travel for a writing conference and needed to pay it off.
While I’m grateful for the money, I think the best part of this contest was the fact that Benjamin Percy read my writing – period.
MP: What advice do you have for writers just starting to make this their priority?
KW: A writer who wants to write will do it anyway, regardless of whether they’re tired, busy, discouraged, humiliated, poor. They just figure it out. Not every day is a blast, but you’ll know that you’re doing something right when you’re working hard despite all that.
Congratulations to Kate Wisel for placing in the 2017 Literary Awards Program as one of two runners-up for her short story collection Driving in Cars with Homeless Men.
Monica Prince is the 2017-2018 Creative Writing Fellow in Poetry at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania. She received her MFA in poetry at Georgia College & State University, and her BA in English Creative Writing at Knox College. She currently writes and reviews for the Santa Fe Writers Project, as well as reviews and edits for Aquarius Press. Her work can be found in MadCap Review, The Sula Collective, The Shade Journal, TRACK//FOUR, and others. Her choreopoem, Sestina: A Black Woman in Six Parts, will premiere in April 2018 in Selinsgrove, PA, where she teaches, writes, and performs.