Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Writers in the Spotlight: Erin K. Parker

Hi, Erin!

Welcome to Literary Exhibitionism. You recently released a short story collection, The Secret and the Sacred, with Unknown Press. Congratulations! I want you to know that I devoured it over vacation. 

Thanks, Jen.  I am so pleased that you enjoyed it. 

I noticed that all of the stories in your book, with the exception of “The Photo Album,” are told in first-person narration, creating an intimate feel, as though your narrators are confiding in the reader. Did you set out to achieve such a confidential tone, and how do you decide what point of view you adopt when writing your stories?  

Image result for the secret and the sacredSome of the stories were written in the third-person, and even published that way originally in other publications.  But when Bud Smith, at Unknown Press, read the collection, that was the first note he gave me:  to try telling these stories in first-person in order to create a more intimate, confessional collection.  I did some rewriting, and I had to agree.  It did dial the book in a little tighter, so we went with it.

How long did it take you to write this collection?

It took a few years because I didn’t originally set out to put together a collection.  I was fortunate to start getting work accepted by various publications, and Bud Smith would occasionally tell me that he liked my work and to let him know when I was ready to put out a collection because Unknown Press was interested.  I worked on it very slowly, but steadily, for a couple of years – there were a lot of other things going on which took priority.  At one point, I sent a lot of the stories to Bud so he could see if there was enough for a solid collection that he’d be interested in.  Once I got his comments, I had a clearer direction on where to go with it.  When I saw them all together, I liked the intimate tone, the confessional theme of the stories, and felt they could stand together.  I suddenly realized that I really did have a collection.  There were all these moments or situations where the character stops and looks around and sees clearly what is going on in her life.  Where the only thing to do is to keep going.  Just keep walking.  Either walk away from something or walk toward something else.  The cover art is perfect for the book.  It’s a photo by Brooke Shaden, a very talented photographer who let Unknown Press use her art for my book.  I absolutely love the cover.

I too love the cover. It really introduces the writing well. When did start writing fiction?

I started when I was young, maybe 6 or 7.  I wrote quite a bit growing up – journals, stories and poetry.  I’ve always loved language so much, and have always been an avid reader too.

Who/what inspires you?

I am greatly inspired by authors like Mark Helprin, Margaret Atwood and Hemingway.  They are masters of the art of storytelling and the use of the sparest, most perfect combination of words.  I am really  inspired by art and design.  Stories I see visually can often open a path for the words to come.

Do you ever find yourself blocked creatively?

I do, but not for long periods of time.  I have found that the way to get unstuck is to look at art, design or to pick up a book and start reading.  This helps me get going again, it shakes things loose.  My career is in design, so I can’t afford to panic when I get blocked creatively.  I figured out a long time ago that creative inspiration can be found in so many places, and sometimes it’s just a matter of relaxing and opening up to other mediums.  Get quiet and stay open.  Also, I don’t treat creativity with any kind of reverence, so it isn’t bigger than me.  It’s a puzzle I want to put together, and the trick is to stay open so I can see the pieces.

What is your favorite prompt?

I had never used prompts until I worked with Kyle Schruder and Robert Vaughan for a piece that I was submitting to Lost In Thought.  Kyle sent me a group of photos to choose from to use as a prompt.  I was drawn to a photo of a young woman standing on the street, dressed for work, holding a coffee, and looking completely overwhelmed.  Her whole story came to me right away:  she had just left home and moved to her first apartment.  She had a futon and was hoping to save up for a real bed.  She had an entry level office job that she was excited about.  She was getting used to her new life, finding her routine which consisted of stopping at the neighborhood coffee shop in the mornings on the way to work.  She looked forward to going grocery shopping because it was still so new and it made her feel like she was an adult.  At the same time, she was terrified of messing up at work and afraid of her car breaking down because she didn’t have enough money for a car repair.  You know, that kind of thing came to me, I could see her whole life in that picture.  I remember what that was like and I just started writing.  That story became "Red Velvet Couch."  I will definitely use pictures as a prompt again.

Can you describe your writing routine?

I don’t really have a writing routine.  I write when I can’t stand to keep the story inside anymore.  The lines start screaming to be heard and I have to get them out.  That’s the best feeling in the world.

How many revisions do your stories undergo?

Not very many.  I rework the details or the rhythm of the lines quite a bit when I am done, but the bulk of the story is fairly close to how I first write it. 

Any advice for beginning writers?

When you are ready to submit to places, it’s better to have a pile to choose from, so just keep writing.  Also, once you find someone’s piece that you like, read their bio to see where else they have work.  That will lead you to find new publications where you might want to submit.  At the beginning, it’s almost like a scavenger hunt!

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received (writing or no)?

To write things that I would want to read. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to swing by Lit Exhibit, Erin. I would love to know what you’re working on currently, and where readers can find your work.

Thank you so much for this interview, Jen!  I am working on new flash fiction pieces and short stories for the next collection.   I can be found at

Prompt: Based on Erin's answers, let's write an ekphrastic piece of flash fiction based on a photo -- either one you own or one on a post card (there are great ones at bookstores). Find a photo, set a timer, and go! Let us know how it goes.   

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