Michelle Elvy is one of our featured writers at our August 13th reading. Check out our interview with her below.
What is your first memory of writing for fun?
We were a family of storytellers. As a kid, I wrote and then performed plays with friends or my brothers for the family. They were sometimes adaptations of fairy tales, sometimes made up. I also wrote radio plays with a friend. We recorded them on our small tape deck and roared at how funny we were. I do not know where those tapes are today, but it’s likely a good thing they are lost.
How many drafts = done?
As many as it takes. As an editor and manuscript assessor, I’ve worked with many different kinds of writers, and it’s clear that every piece and every writer will require a different framework (including time) for editing. Sometimes the polishing goes quickly – but sometimes there is deeper work to do, once you step back and look at the whole. I enjoy this process immensely – for me, it’s not a list of tasks that need to be done but part of the creative process. Usually, in the editing phrases, something new emerges. One can be continually surprised at what is lurking beneath the surface, waiting to come out. For my new book, the everrumble, I did not set out to write it all as a whole, though I did write a set of connected stories mostly within a one-month period of time. Then it took more than a year to let it sit, to walk away and come back – and to see how the pieces fit together and formed the story. It was a really wonderful experience because I did not feel rushed about it.
What is your favorite book or favorite book-of-the-moment?
Hmmm. Tough question. I go back to certain authors again and again: Ondaatje, Proulx, Barth, Didion. Also Nathalie Saurraute’s Tropisms. Michael Ende’s Momo is a classic that is a family favorite – our boat (our home since 2003) is named after that character. If I have to name one book that I value more each time I read it, it’s John Barth’s Tidewater Tales. It is complex and layered, critical and intelligent – and yet ultimately joyful.
What is it about your discipline that gets you the most excited?
If we are talking about short form writing (flash fiction, prose poetry, etc.), it’s seeing something small and sculpted into just the right shape. This goes for my own writing as well as the work I read as an editor. I think small fictions, like poetic writing, can work as a tool for any writing. The small form also encourages experimentation – and that is really exciting.
What’s your favorite word or words? What about it/them appeals to you?
I am going to answer this with an excerpt from my new book – because the character Zettie is a person who stops talking in order to listen. She tunes into the sounds of the earth, and words. This is from a chapter called ‘Book Notes’:
… she began collecting book notes as
she read, adding to her first entry and crowding her
little book with letters that fascinated her. As her
knowledge of languages grew, she kept one book
that had special notations – the ones she pulled
out repeatedly. There was Little Tiger, catching
two fish so that he might eat one and put the other
back – a gift of life, and such joy (Janosch, Post
für den Tiger); and arguments about truth and
perception (Flaubert/ Nadeau). Also proverbs such
as giza likizidi, kucha kunakaribia – when darkness
becomes more intense, dawn is near: useful in many
In the margins of the pages, she also developed
the habit of adding phrases she turned in her mind,
over and over; phrases like Man lernt nie aus
(German, you never stop learning); Fingertoppskänsla
(Swedish, finger tips moving, or intuitively thinking)
and Hapana bahari isiyo mawimbi (Kiswahili, there
is no sea without waves).
And this, her favourite word: levande ljus (Swedish),
for candle. Living light.
Bonus question: what literary character do you think would come across as really appealing and not appealing on an online dating profile? Think about what they would write about themselves online (would Mr. Darcy write nice things about himself?).
Momo – she is an odd girl with a wonderful mind and big heart. The right person would have to come along to ‘get’ her.
Michelle Elvy is a writer, editor and manuscript assessor. She is Assistant Editor for the international Best Small Fictions series and founder of Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction and National Flash Fiction Day NZ. In 2018 she co-edited Bonsai: Best small stories from Aotearoa New Zealand. Michelle’s poetry, fiction, travel writing, creative nonfiction and reviews have been widely published and anthologized, most recently in The Feminine Divine (Cynren Press 2019), New Micro (W.W. Norton 2018), Ofi Press (2016-2018), Manifesto: 101 Political Poems from Aotearoa New Zealand (Otago University Press 2017) and Borderlands & Crossroads: Writing the Motherland (Demeter Press 2016). Her new book, the everrumble (Ad Hoc Fiction 2019), is a small novel in small forms. michelleelvy.com