“Stay on the Path,” an Interview with N. West Moss, author of FLESH & BLOOD

N. West Moss is the author of the story collection, The Subway Stops at Bryant Park, and the memoir, Flesh and Blood: Reflections on Infertility, Family, and Creating a Bountiful Life. Her essays and short stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, The Saturday Evening Post, The Stockholm Review, Salon, the New York Times, Brevity, River Teeth, and Ars Medica, amongst many others

Q: What projects are you working on now? What are you excited about? 

A: I have several projects in various stages of completeness. I have a middle grade book that has been purchased, and I expect to get notes from my editor shortly. I also have ideas for two sequels to that book, and those ideas are written down in a file. I have a children’s book that I’m writing with my mother. I have a novel for adults that I’m also working on, as well as several essays, a short story, and a one-act play. That sounds like I’m writing a lot. I’m not really, but they are all there and ready for me as soon as I have time. Oh, another cool thing is that someone has purchased film rights for a few of my short stories, so I’ve gotten to spend time with him and hear the ways that he is envisioning making a very quiet story into a short film. It’s thrilling to collaborate in that way, to write, but really, I’m excited about all of my projects, every single bit of them. Creative endeavors–what joy.

Q: You write in seemingly all genres. Is it difficult or freeing to move between genres? What advice do you have for other authors who want to diversify that way? 

A: I read in all genres, from the most high-falutin’ literary work (think Virginia Woolf) to armloads of YA, poetry, plays, etc. I love language and I don’t feel like being bound by form. So no it’s not difficult to move between genres. It’s a delight. My memoir [has launched], and [I’m doing] interviews about that book, but I’m already looking forward to spending time writing fiction again, where I can make things up, and amuse myself without being the center of the story. So I love it. That being said, I have a lot to learn. So I got the itch to write a play or two or three, and I know that there is a lot I don’t know, so I’m sitting in on a friend’s script writing class, and I’m hoping another friend (you know who you are!) will teach an online class that I can attend in January. I want to be good at it, and I want to test out the ways that these different forms both constrain and allow us certain freedoms, simultaneously. 

Q: What have you NOT tackled yet that you want to? 

A: I want to get better at long-form fiction. I love great novels and I feel right at the edge of my ability with that. I need time though, to get better at it. The novels that I want to write require great time and concentration, and I don’t have great swaths of time, sadly. I also want to write some plays. I’m all excited about Sara Ruhl’s work (I got to be on a panel with her recently and now I’m reading everything she’s written) but I’ve always been fascinated by Eugene O’Neal’s two plays, A Long Day’s Journey into Night and The Iceman Cometh, and the ways that allowing characters to just speak for themselves reveals them so utterly. I want to be able to do that. I also love the idea of working with other people sounds great. I’d love to have a director and actors and lighting designers and costume people all add to their vision of my story. It just sounds like fun. Oh, also, I have never written poetry. I love reading poetry, but I just have never learned how to make it myself, even though I think that some of my language is poetic. I’m not a poet, I don’t get how to do it, and maybe someday someone will teach me how.

Q: What are you trying to write “around” in your life–what priorities also take up your time and energy, and how do you fit writing in, too?

A: All I want is time. All any writer wants is time. I wish I was rich and had a butler and a cook and someone to make me cocktails and do the dishes. But I don’t have any of that, and I have a full-time job, so I work around all of that. Whenever I think that it’s too hard, I think about Pearl Buck getting up very early in the morning and writing before her children awoke and before she went out to work in the rice fields, and I think, Quit being a baby and get to work. So I try to be disciplined. I have a lot of books that I want to write before my life is over, and my father, who did some writing, lost his ability to think clearly at the end of his life, so I feel like the clock is ticking. I try not to waste time, but I still do, and I’m not too hard on myself. I don’t want to ruin writing for myself by beating myself up. My career is moving along and maybe one day I’ll be able to afford to take a long residency somewhere and get substantial work completed. Until then, I do what I can. 

Q: So much about writing is really about networking and marketing, which can exhaust writers and take time away from their craft. How do you connect with readers and other writers in ways that you find beneficial or rewarding? 

A: There’s also all the time spent sending our work around and waiting for a response. I got into MacDowell a few years ago. What a lucky break that was, and I’ve since been to other residencies including the glorious Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA) and Cill Rialaig in Ireland. Meeting other artists at these places is enormously helpful. But really things are getting easier for me now. Getting the right agent has been enormously helpful.  He looks out for me, and helps me strategize about my career, and he protects me from a lot of the sending out process and the negotiations, that I wouldn’t be very good at. Having my current book published by Algonquin has been a stunning change for me. They arrange events for my book. They send the galleys out to reviewers and influencers. They get me interviews. They even help place some of my writing. All of this is to say that if you keep plugging away and get lucky enough to have an amazing agent and a lovely publisher, you finally get to do a bit less of these other jobs, and more of the writing. I say that to you, though, in the midst of the vortex of my first big launch, and even with people helping with that other stuff, it’s still pretty extroverted and exhausting. The thing is, I’m willing to do anything if it means I get to be a writer, and my job, as I see it, is just to stay on the path and put one little foot in front of the other for as long as I can.

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