Wednesday, October 6, 2010

An Interview with Andrew Wingfield

On October 17, The Writer's Center will host a special Open Door reading featuring the Washington Writers' Publishing House fiction and poetry winners. Poet Holly Karapetkova (Words We Might One Day Say) and Andrew Wingfield (Right of Way). Yesterday on FPP Jared Clark reviewed Right of Way. Today he interviews the author. Look for a review of Karpetkova's collection next week.

Jared Clark: Can you tell me a little bit more about your background and how it influenced Right of Way?

Andrew Wingfield: Well I grew up in Northern California in a small town. It had been an agricultural town, but during the years I lived there, between kindergarten and college, it got swallowed up by suburban sprawl. That really made an impression on me and I think that's part of why I'm a place-based writer. I'm interested in how people relate to the place that they live, how they shape the place and how it shapes them, and I find that especially fascinating when the place is changing in a dramatic way. 

JC: So what is your own relationship with the neighborhood of Cleave Springs? 

AW: I moved into the Del Ray neighborhood in Alexandria, Va. about ten years ago, and in that time I've seen a lot of gentrification. So I've been on the ground participating in that and watching it unfold over the last decade. I've been exposed to a lot of interesting sights and scenarios and characters in the neighborhood and I thought that some of that stuff would make good material for fiction.

JC: As a writer, what are some of the challenges posed by creating this fictional locale and writing stories that take place in just one environment?

AW: Early on, I had to decide whether I was going to try to do this in a novel or a group of stories. And I think that was a really critical decision. I decided to go for stories because one of the things I observed about this neighborhood was that, although it was diverse, it wasn't very integrated. And so there were lots of individual characters and relationships, lots of stories and situations, but they were sort of happening simultaneously—parallel, but not necessarily integrated with each other.
JC: What motivates you to write?

AW: Not money [laughter]. I think it's just that I have the urge to tell stories, and I enjoy the practice of writing—working with words to try and make something shapely and resonant.

JC: When it comes time to tell these stories, do you conduct neighborhood interviews or let the imagination take over?

AW: I didn't do interviews for these stories. I listen. A neighborhood is a place of proximity, with people living close to one another and crossing each other’s paths all the time. I've spent a lot of time outside, and a lot of action in this neighborhood is unfolding in the playground and on the main avenue and at the cafĂ© – and I've been to those places and I listen to people. You could say I eavesdrop on them, I interact with them, I know them. So none of it has been formal research, but I think it's fairly common for writers to be always doing research through observation and listening no matter where they are.

JC: One of the things I noticed in your stories is a very acute attention to detail. Your stories wrap up with a decent level of resolution but still leave things a little bit open, and I felt it really encouraged re-reading to understand some of the hidden depths and internal conflicts you've created with the characters. Does this come about naturally as you write, or is it something you've learned?

AW: I like complexity. So I would say it's natural that I like to layer things and I like stories that you can chew on. As a reader I like that, and that just tends to be the way I write. I'd say for me, the challenge in writing short stories comes from packing that kind of complexity in such a short form. Early in my development as a writer, I would ruin my attempts at short stories by trying to pack a novel into a shorter form. I've had to actually leave a lot of things out, believe it or not, from these stories. I tend to like shaggy endings because, to me, what's satisfying about a short story is not necessarily that it has absolute resolution, but that by the end you feel like you really glimpse something meaningful and important, and you feel like something has changed for the character.

Jared Clark is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist and English master's student at George Mason University.

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