Interview with Claire Taylor
Claire: In All Honesty is a question mark. This story is built around the question of, who are we? What is the difference between how we perceive ourselves and who we are if we strip away everything we’ve learned about living and functioning in a society? How much of ourselves can we attribute to personality and how much is just how our brains function? In college I worked at a neuro-rehab facility for traumatic brain injuries. I spent most of my time in the behavioral unit where residents struggled with impulse control after their injuries. Some people had trouble with anger and physical reactions, some struggled with sexually inappropriate behavior and language, some would oscillate between being really warm and gregarious one moment, to alarmingly cruel and offensive the next. Depending on the degree of injury, you can suffer a traumatic brain injury and continue to physically function in relatively the same way you always have while also being fundamentally changed in terms of your personality, your impulses, your responses to the world around you. You can be in many ways the same person you always were and someone completely different all at once. Which version of you is you? Who are you?
In The Weeds is a colon, an open invitation for you to list all the ways the world has torn you apart.
Ariana: If you were a genie, what’s one wish you simply would refuse to grant and why?
Claire: To kill myself so that the wisher gets to take over as genie. Nice try. Very sneaky.
Ariana: What is your favorite poetry/fiction quote of all time? How has it affected or inspired you as a writer?
Claire: “With clarity and quiet, I look upon the world and say: All that I see, hear, taste, smell, and touch are the creations of my mind. The sun comes up and the sun goes down in my skull. Out of one of my temples the sun rises, and into the other the sun sets.” -Nikos Kazantzakis (The Saviors of God)
It’s neither poetry nor fiction and I’ve never actually read anything by Kazantzakis, so I’m cheating a little here, but my dad introduced me to this quote when I was a teenager and struggling with depression in a serious way for the first time in my life. It has stuck with me because I think it speaks to both depression and to writing—the two unshakeable, guiding forces in my life. Part of learning to live with and manage depression is being able to, with clarity and quiet, say: the ways in which I am experiencing and interpreting the world are the creations of my mind. How can I construct a different story for myself about who I am and my relationship to the world? Over time I have learned how to take the things my depression makes me feel and believe about myself, all of the painful, negative interpretations of who I am and how others see me and release them on the page, to turn them into different creations of my mind and let them exist outside of me.
Ariana: Describe your style of writing as a weather forecast.
Claire: Mostly cloudy. The majority of my writing deals with depressing themes. Grief, pain, mental illness, despair. But I try to give most of my pieces at least brief moments of levity or hope. A little sunlight peeking out every now and then.
Ariana: What can you tell us about each of the pieces in this issue? Do they sum up the arc of your work in general?
Claire: I wrote In The Weeds early in the pandemic when I was spending a lot of time working in my garden so that I wasn’t stuck inside my house all day. It more closely resembles a lot of my other writing, connecting something in nature to human emotions and struggle. In All Honesty is more of a departure for me. This piece was my first time writing micro fiction and I wrote it specifically for Sucker For a Pretty Flash. I tend to be overly wordy in my writing so sticking to just 100 words was a real challenge. I like to write about relationships, though. Unspoken desires and surprising insights into the self or a partner. This story is in keeping with those themes.
Ariana: Do you dance around the room crazy when no one is looking?
Claire: Of course. I dance when I’m cooking dinner. When I’m waiting at stop lights. At every single wedding I’ve ever been to. My son is big into dancing so one thing we’ve done throughout the pandemic is have post-dinner dance parties once it starts to get dark out. We turn off all the lights and put on music and wave flashlights around to turn our living room into a club. It’s ridiculous and fun, and our poor dog doesn’t understand what we’re doing and thinks the world is coming to an end every time we do it.
Ariana: Do you have any advice for aspiring writers looking to get published?
Claire: I’d love to say something profound about success and failure, about perseverance and the right balance of ego and humility, but instead I’m going to go with something really practical: set up a good spreadsheet for tracking your submissions and figure out a way to organize your documents so you know what you’re still drafting vs what you’re revising vs what’s completed but not submitted vs what’s currently on submission vs what’s already been published. My Google Drive is an absolute disaster and I hate Past Me for it.
Ariana: What do you think has most characterized your writing?
Claire: Settling for good enough. A lot of my writing is about survival and muddling through. My characters are not coming away from their stories feeling happy, but I try to bring them to a point of resolve to keep going. And my writing that is more about my own struggles is usually a balance of recognizing the depths of my own despair, and the moments that allow me to move forward in spite of it.
Ariana: What season would you describe yourself as?
Claire: Season 4 of The Office. Pretty enjoyable with some strong moments of humor and emotional payoffs, but you get the feeling that if you hang around for too much longer, you’re gonna end up being disappointed with what you get.
Ariana: Every writer seems to have a dream journal. Do you have a dream journal? If so, what do you love about it?
Claire: I don’t really. I have journals that have rejected me enough times that I should probably just realize they aren’t into my work and move on. And there are journals where I laugh after hitting submit because who the hell am I kidding based on the names they’ve published. But I wouldn’t classify any particular journal as a dream journal. I will take this opportunity to shoutout Capsule Stories, though, with whom I have published three pieces and now serve as a staff reader. Their editions are maybe the most beautifully designed I’ve seen among lit journals and they are really supportive of their contributors.
Claire Taylor is a writer in Baltimore, Maryland. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and she was a finalist for the 2020 Lascaux Prize in Poetry. Her micro-chapbook, A History of Rats, is available from Ghost City Press. Claire is the editor in chief of Little Thoughts Press, a print magazine of writing for and by kids. She serves as a staff reader for Capsule Stories. Find Claire online at clairemtaylor.com or Twitter @ClaireM_Taylor.