Kathleen Furin’s story, “Catch,” is featured in this year’s summer issue. We asked her a few brief questions about writing. Here are her answers.
Q: Do you have any super secret rituals that help your writing process?
A: No super secret rituals! As a working mom I just write when I can; on the train, sitting in the car waiting for the kids. Sometimes I wake up early to write; sometimes I write late at night. I fantasize about having a regular practice, but for now it is what it is.
Q: When did you first become serious about writing? Do you have other artistic talents?
A: Even though I had always wanted to be a writer, I didn’t get serious about it until a few years ago. It seemed like something that was out of reach for a normal person like me. But I loved to write, and I was in a writing group with women who were supportive and encouraging. So I decided to apply to MFA programs, as a working mom in my mid-forties. I know there is a lot of debate about the MFA but for me it did legitimize my desire. It gave me permission to take writing seriously. I loved the program, and I especially love the friends I made at NYU, all of whom are beautiful, courageous writers and people.
In terms of other talents, I am addicted to salsa dancing! I discovered salsa when I was working as a social worker. All day long I would be working with people, struggling with problems that sometimes seemed insurmountable. Dancing at the end of a long day was perfect, because it let me connect with people in social, sometimes intimate ways without having to think, without having to talk. The interaction when you dance with a partner happens on a very physical level, and there’s something about that which is very grounding. I could just leave all my stress on the floor. Sadly, passion and talent are not the same thing! But my salsa friends are generous, and sweet, and they tolerate my efforts.
Q: What’s your most important and necessary writing accoutrement?
A: My laptop, which I sometimes have to wrestle away from my daughters.
Q: Your piece deals with midwifery and “pulling [the babies] into the world.” Is this practice anything like your writing process and the act of creativity? How so? Do you have any advice for those who want to write about their other skill sets and professions?
A: That’s an interesting question. I think there are some commonalities between the process of writing and the process of giving birth. In the midwifery model of care there is an idea that you trust the process, and unless something is wrong you let things unfold naturally. When I start writing I usually have no idea how the piece is going to unfold. I have some snippet, an image, or a character, or sometimes just a string of words. So I am trusting that I will write my way into whatever the piece will be. I have learned, though, that the revision process is probably the most critical part. And revision is not easy. For me writing my way into something is liberating because there are so many possibilities. Once I need to trim and focus and edit I can get frustrated. I don’t always see the solutions. This is where I need to pause sometimes, and take time away from the piece.
I don’t know that I have any advice, but I’m always drawn to writing that pulls me into a world about which I know nothing. What may be boring to someone in their own workplace is probably fascinating to those of us who don’t know that world, who don’t share those experiences. Anyplace, really, can be interesting. So if you have a job or set of skills don’t assume that other people would be bored by it. Use it, and give us very specific details to bring it to life for us.
Q: Which writers do you look up to? Who has influenced your writing? What’s one thing everyone should read?
I love Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Roxanne Gay. I’ve been trying to read more poetry, and I would recommend Terence Hayes and Claudia Rankine. I’m almost always reading 34 books at once. Right now I’m reading Loving Day by Mat Johnson. My family is multiracial and I am a little obsessed with books about race, so I was very excited to pick that up. And a friend recently gave me Garcia Marquez’ Living to Tell the Tale, which I’m about halfway through. In terms of what everyone should read, one thing that was a little disappointing to me in my MFA program was that so much of what we studied was the white male canon. No disrespect, but I had already read much of that anyway. When I had the opportunity to teach I had my students read work by Yiyun Li, Taiye Selasi, Mo Yan, Leslie Marmon Silko, ZZ Packer. So I think just reading everything you can from writers of diverse backgrounds from all over the world is really, really important.
Kathleen Furin’s work has been published in Salon, Philadelphia Stories, Literary Mama, Apiary, The Mother’s Movement Online, the Operation Homecoming anthology, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from New York University and an MSW from Temple University. She is a childbirth educator and the co-founder of the Maternal Wellness Group. She lives in Philly with her husband and two daughters.