5 Burning Questions with Cameron MacKenzie

Cameron MacKenzie is one of our featured writers at our September 10th reading. Check out our interview with her below.

What is your first memory of writing for fun?

I remember in 3rd grade writing a story about a dog who could fly and had X-ray vision. The reason it sticks with me is that I got really frustrated about the ending, and couldn’t figure out how to bring the story home. Probably because it was around 1984, I decided the dog should go to the Olympics and win a gold medal. That felt a little rushed to me, a little forced, but looking back we most likely had something like 30 minutes for the whole assignment.

How many drafts = done?

Some stories happen quickly, some take years. For a short story, I’ll write at least 15 drafts. Usually when I think it’s completely tight and ready to go, I’ll set it aside for a month or two and then come back to it. The time gives me some necessary distance on the story and I can see problems I didn’t notice before. I’ll do anything to get some space between myself and the writing; I’ll look at the story in a different font or with different spacing. I usually know the story’s done when I just cut off the first page or the last page and it sounds a lot better.

What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?

I’m back and forth between Peter Mathiessen’s The Snow Leopard, a gorgeous recounting of his hike to Himalayan monasteries in 1973, and The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, a collection of short stories by Denis Johnson–the story “Triumph Over the Grave” has got to be one of the best things I’ve ever read.

What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?

There’s a black magic to writing. It’s really like a conjuring–a gathering and deployment of spirits. A powerful writer can build and breathe life into a world right in front of you that wasn’t there before. It’s a remarkably difficult highwire act that, if done right, has the power to change people.

What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?

I get nervous if I find myself using the same words. I love it when I stumble on something unexpected. “Disarticulated” is a word that popped up lately as I was writing. I try to listen to the rhythm of the sentence and, finding that, then try to get a sense of how many syllables the next word should have in order to keep that rhythm going, or complicate it, or shut it down.

Bonus question: what is one thing you would eradicate if you had the power to eradicate just one thing in this world.  [can you tell my favorite word is eradicate?]

Fear, maybe. All negativity comes from that. But I’m also hesitant to eradicate. Maybe we need more, in the broad sense, not less.


Cameron’s work has appeared or will appear in The Michigan Quarterly Review, Salmagundi, and J Journal, among other places. His novel The Beginning of His Excellent and Eventful Career (MadHat Press), and monograph Badiou and American Modernist Poetics (Palgrave Macmillan) were both published last year. He teaches at Ferrum College.

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