This interview was conducted by Cécile Matthey, and published on cecilematthey.ch. This above image is an illustration for «Thick on the Wet Cement» by Cécile Matthey.
Dans le cadre des 10 ans du webzine anglais « The Future Fire », j’ai eu l’occasion d’interviewer Rebecca Schwab, auteure de la nouvelle « Thick on the Wet Cement », publiée dans « The Future Fire » en 2012 et que j’avais illustrée. Faisons la connaissance de cette écrivaine américaine, qui a plus d’une corde à son arc…
This year, The Future Fire, the magazine of social-political speculative fiction edited by Djibril al-Ayad, celebrates its 10th birthday. Rebecca Schwab is one of the talented authors whose works have been published in The Future Fire. Rebecca writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. She serves as acquisitions editor for Leapfrog Press and Crossborder: A Journal of Fiction (Leapfrog Press and Guernica Editions), reports for The OBSERVER in Dunkirk, NY, and is a freelance writer for Buffalo Spree Magazine. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Drafthorse, Allegro Poetry Magazine and elsewhere. Rebecca has been kind enough to answer a few questions about her writing work, in particular about the short story “Thick on the Wet Cement,” published in The Future Fire in 2012, and that I had the good luck to illustrate.
CM : Rebecca, what were your sources of inspiration to write the short story “Thick on the Wet Cement” ?
RS : For “Thick on the Wet Cement,” the object of the speaker’s curiosity (the walking woman) is based on a real woman in Morgantown, West Virginia. For all I know she is still there. She doggedly walked around town every day, rain or shine. She never smiled or greeted anyone. I always watched her, wondering what kept her so focused, and what kept her from being friendly. I was a little like the speaker of the story, but unlike that speaker, I never had the courage to say hello to her. The story came out of that speculation. I write a bit of poetry, too, which is how the haiku ended up in the story. I thought, that would be the only way someone could really communicate with “The Walker.”
CM : Could you tell a little about how you work to write a story?
RS : All of my stories come from the same basic “What if?” ideas that a lot of writers consider. I imagine a character, someone who is normal and strange all at once (like all of us), and put him/her in a situation in which he/she is uncomfortable—a situation in which the character is barely keeping his/her mask on, or can’t quite get what he/she wants. For “Thick on the Wet Cement,” I thought: what if someone became a little obsessed with that woman? Why would someone become so fixated? What would that speaker’s life be like? What would happen if there was ever a confrontation? I have a lot of unfinished stories, because I haven’t always been able to answer whatever question comes next. I hope to, someday. Those unfinished stories nag at me in unguarded moments, like when I’m washing the dishes, or can’t sleep.
CM : Do you have favourite themes?
RS : I don’t know that I have intentionally favorite themes, but looking back through my stories, I see that loneliness and desire for connection are often present. And I also see that my characters don’t usually get what they want, or at least not in the ways that they would wish for. I think, though, that with “Thick on the Wet Cement,” there is at least an opportunity for hope–maybe the walking woman will stop in to talk with the speaker. At least, the speaker doesn’t lose hope, which is kind of nice, or kind of sad, depending on how one looks at it.
CM : Have you always written?
RS: I don’t know that I’ve “always” done anything, but in high school I noticed how much I enjoyed writing–from poetry to essays. I was relatively good at it, and pursued it in college, where I met Alison Umminger, who was a wonderful influence. She gave me great advice about grad school, and I ended up getting a Master of Fine Arts in Fiction from West Virginia University. There, Mark Brazaitis and Kevin Oderman became mentors, too. Now, I work several jobs that involve writing. Unfortunately, that means that « my writing » is kind of an extra thing–when I have time for it, which is not as often as I’d like it to be. Right now, I have a lot of ideas somersaulting through my head that haven’t found their way to paper (or computer file) yet.
CM: What are your favourite authors and texts?
RS: There are really too many authors and works that I admire to compose a complete list–I love the novel Waterland by Graham Swift. I love Joyce Carol Oates and Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro. I love everything from the lit/sci-fi novels of Jasper Fforde to old, “cozy” mysteries. Mary Stewart novels are fun to read. I recently finished The Shipping News, and loved that. My tastes are all over the place.
CM: How have you come to know The Future Fire?
RS: A friend initially put me onto The Future Fire. I find that my writing isn’t always easy to classify–sometimes it’s more of a hybrid instead of one specific genre, or maybe the subject matter and tone don’t “match” in a traditional way–so an inclusive publication like The Future Fire appeals to me, both as a reader and a writer. They’re into new and progressive work; they appreciate diversity, and they don’t shy away from what other magazines or journals might consider risky or weird.
CM: How does it feel to see your stories illustrated? Do you find it interesting, or disturbing, especially if the vision of the illustrator is different from yours?
RS: I’ve only had my work paired with graphics/pictures three times, and the artwork in The Future Fire is by far my favorite. Your drawing is uncannily like the woman I based the story on–down to the expression on her face. I couldn’t believe it when I saw it. I was absolutely thrilled. For my other stories that have been paired with photos, well, they worked. They were not as intentional as the one for TFF, though. I suppose if someone paired my work with a picture I didn’t like, or that I didn’t think fit, I’d probably keep my mouth shut. I often wear an editor’s hat, and answer to editors for all three of my jobs. So, I have respect for the position. If someone asked my opinion, I would give it honestly and respectfully.
CM: What are your writing projects?
RS: Right now, I have a very long to-do list with the press, the newspaper, and the magazine, plus some side editing projects. I mentioned that I have a few stories still in the works–I hope to return to them soon.
CM: Thank you very much, Rebecca. We wish you a lot of extra time to write!
16th August, 2015