- Why is it important to write thoughtful rejection letters?
I receive a lot of rejection letters each year, and after a while it can be disheartening, but when you get one that sounds positive and encouraging, it can really change your day. Literary magazines and seasoned writers will tell you not to take rejection personally, but writing and making art is such a personal thing, it takes a lot of courage just to get it out the door. A well-worded rejection letter can mean the difference between the writer sending out that piece again or tossing it. Having thick skin is important, but so is rigorous editing.
When you see that email from the magazine in your inbox, you get this crazy jolt of anxiety. If the letter simply says “We didn’t accept your work,” it can smash your hopes of ever getting that piece published. Although I don’t enjoy rejecting work, I enjoy giving individualized feedback on pieces that didn’t make it in the magazine. It lets me focus on the promising aspects of a story while encouraging the author to explore their work and themselves in a deeper, more meaningful way. If I see the same stories again the next year, 90% of the time they are highly improved. Rejection doesn’t mean the piece is a failure, it only needs more specialized attention. If a rejection letter can encourage the writer to stick to it, you will have helped make a better writer.
- Fermented foods kick? Tell me a little bit more about your passion for red kimchi.
I don’t have a sweet tooth at all, but I have a bad salt tooth. Kimchi satisfies my thirst for salty, vinegary, garlicky, sour things. I love to cook, and the more labor-intensive the recipe, the more I love it and the more I practice and alter the process. Laborious cooking is a way for me to use my brain, but also free it up to experiment, think on stories, and tinker with problems. It’s kind of my preferred way to meditate (plus I love to feed people!). Although kimchi requires no heat, the process is very involved during the building stage and for the next week as it ferments. I also have a passion for outdoor cooking—I use my cast iron ware right on the bonfire when I host parties. Kimchi has the potential to blend all these elements together: you can jar it and keep it under a cupboard, or you can get rustic and bury it in the backyard for a week. This is an old act of connecting with the earth, getting your hands in the dirt feeds your spirit, and later, your body. Using purple cabbage instead of Napa cabbage is about color and texture. When it’s finished, the kimchi is a beautiful, rich purple with a satisfying crunch. I add it to pasta, rice, veggies…but mostly I eat it straight out of the jar.
- What are you looking forward to the most about Morocco?
Writing. I know I’ll be in an exotic land, but the most exciting thing is that I’ll have a month to completely dedicate to my work. Finding time in daily life can be a struggle, so I encourage everyone to find and apply for residencies. I’m going to learn a lot about myself and my process: am I a morning writer, and how early? Do I write best on an empty stomach? Is my brain more active on coffee or tea? Will my style be affected by the local dialect and patterns? These are things I will have the time to explore without the pressure of going to my day job or writing art reviews.
I’m all about having as many adventures in my life as possible (to the great concern of my family). Besides writing, I’m looking forward to seeing the Mediterranean (I’m scoping out a house boat to retire on), eating new foods, learning the languages, and seeing ancient architecture colored by Spanish and French influence. My last days in Morocco are the first days of Ramadan, which on its own will be an amazing experience. I would like to see part of the Sahara and the camels. Even daily things are exciting in a new country, like bird-watching, which I intend to do.
- What do you plan to do during your layover in Casablanca?
I have a 14 hour layover before my plane leaves for Tangier, but I arrive at Casablanca at 8am so I have the whole day to myself. I must go see the Hassan II, the largest Mosque in Morocco. It’s right on the Atlantic and absolutely stunning. Casablanca just built a modern tramway system that makes city travel fairly easy, so if I combine the rail with a petit taxi I can see a lot in one day. Once on the coast, I’ll find a place with good seafood, and on the way back to the airport maybe stop at the Bouskoura Forest to smell the eucalyptus trees. I just met a girl who spent four months in Morocco and said bike tours are the way to go in Casa, so if I have the time I might seek one out. Traveling is exhausting, but I’m not about to pass up a chance to see this city, no matter how bad my jetlag is.
- What will you miss about working with WPP?
I will miss the people. Whispering Prairie Press is a tough and ambitious non-profit, and the board is committed to the arts and to Kansas City. I have never met another board as hard working as WPP is, and although it was a lot of work, I wore my service on the board as a badge of honor. I know I’ll always be a part of that community, but something about being on a working board for almost 3 years felt so underdog. We felt our rewards deeply because of our investment in the mission. Even small successes felt huge, and there was always the pride of having overcome the odds to make it work. Affecting peoples lives—helping them along the way to publishing their first story, having their first art show, and giving their first public speech—is such a valuable experience. I know the board will continue to do wonderful things for Kansas City and for artists.
- What is the biggest misconception about you?
I think my confidence can be misleading. Being a writer means being alone a lot and letting your work shoulder the burden of interacting with people. I’m actually quite shy and I criticize myself to high-stress.
I also think people see me as having a mean critical spirit. I’m a big-picture thinker, and I’ve been exiled by people who impose non-critical emotions over an issue. It’s a critics job to challenge ideas and dig into what’s really going on, and I back my negative reviews with methodical research and carefully chosen language. People get very uncomfortable when you engage in unpopular criticism. They want to pin their unease on the critic and not the larger issue, so I think people see me as having vendettas against certain institutions or individuals, when it’s usually the individual/institution in question that indirectly causes this discomfort. I don’t remain silent when I see something I don’t trust.
- What is your connection with Arab women and why do you want to write about them?
My connection is with equality and feminism. I don’t intend to borrow or filter the stories and lives of Arab women for the purpose of my fiction, but I do want to expand my worldview so I can fix some of the ethno-centricity of my own writing. The residency at Green Olive Arts is a chance for me to weave the narratives and values of different cultures into something relatable. I believe there are many ways to address issues of gender inequality in the world, and if a reader can empathize with a female Muslim character and her daily life, I consider that a small but effective step toward more widespread understanding. I have this one, specific thing—my strength as a writer—to contribute to the global discussions, and I want to use it to illuminate a population that receives little sympathy from the world.
This residency is incredibly important to my work. When I return to Kansas City, I will be a better, more informed writer and critic, and I intend to use these skills to make the Kansas City art scene more globally-minded.