On a sunny Spring afternoon in Phoenix, Katie Cortese , an ASU alumna, visited campus this spring to read from her short story collection, Make Way For Her and Other Stories. Before the reading, our intern Tonissa Saul had a chance to sit down with her and talk about her work. Over a bowl of prickly pear sherbet, they discussed finding the time to write, character perspective, and pizza parties.
On her work
TS: The story Lemonade is beautiful. What was the inspiration for it and what made you use the temporary aspect of a film shooting in parallel to the stages of Alzheimer’s?
KC: That wasn’t deliberate until I started writing it. The repetition of shooting scenes over and over and the way the actors have to pretend like it’s new every time lends itself to the way the mom is seeing everything new all the time as her memory goes and the daughter is reliving all of these moments and pretending they are new for her mom’s sake.
TS: The women in your stories cover a large gamut of knowledge and experience. There’s The women in Lemonade who are in later adulthood, Maya in Flightplan who is in her early twenties, and Lili from The First, Necessary Heartbreak who is sixteen to name a few. Regardless of age, none of the stories stand out as targeting an audience, for example, Lili’s story is not a targeted YA story. What compels you to write these stories from such a wide berth of experiences?
KC: I have always written from the young girl’s perspective, it’s something about the way they are often dismissed that draws me to that age. It’s starting to change with things like the students from Parkland and things like Twitter where everyone’s voice is amplified. I don’t think girls think of themselves as limited but they are often dismissed.
It’s harder to write about women my age because sometimes I still don’t feel like an adult, you know? It’s always better to write about places after I’ve left instead of while I’m there. The distance lends itself to the voice.
TS: I see that you have had poetry published in [PANK] and The Prose Poetry Project. What draws you to each medium? Are there any plans for releasing a poetry collection?
KC: Most of the poems I’ve written are on the cusp of prose poetry. In grad school wrote more poetry but I haven’t written in that mode for a while. I’m still writing flash fiction which is similar to prose poetry. I’ve been revising a novel that was intended for a YA audience but probably should be for adults. It’s hard to work on a story and a novel at the same time but I can write flash and get through that quicker.
If something’s bothering me, I will usually put that in an essay. I don’t like to write stories from a concept but I’m sure it comes out anyway. It’s dangerous for me to look that in the face while I’m writing it. My favorite essays are when you can see the writer’s minds working. It makes you feel like you’re having a conversation.
TS: Can you talk about the Write Our Democracy event and how that came about?
KC: The idea for Write Our Democracy came from Erin Belieu out of Florida State. I loved it and wanted to participate. An event was initially planned for inauguration day to give people a voice.
At Texas Tech we didn’t talk about the current administration. We just talked about groups that needed a bigger voice to talk about issues like immigration and police brutality. Dima Alhesan was a part of the No Ban, No Wall protest. She was at the Write Our Democracy event to read. Dennis Covington was there to read. He was involved in the conflict in Syria. His book is called Revelation: A Search for Faith in a Violent Religious World. He came and talked about places with disputed borders, like in Juarez where society is in turmoil and our government’s willingness to jump into certain conflicts but not others. Sara Viren, who teaches at ASU downtown, had given birth to a girl just before the election and read work about being a mother in this troubled world. We had tables where people could register to vote. We had a women’s studies table. We also raised money for ACLU. This was a forum for people to come together and talk about their fears. There were ninety events simultaneously on the same day.
On Iron Horse
TS: You’re the fiction editor at Iron Horse Literary Review which releases an incredible 6 issues annually. How do you balance that work load with your teaching and writing?
KC: The six issues are all different. Four are in print, two are online. For the online issues, one is the trifecta (a long story, a long poem, and a long essay) and the other is a photo finish where they post a photo and people have to write a flash fiction piece about the photo.
For the four print issues, the submission windows are pretty staggered. One is all poetry. The MFA students read the first wave, and I’ll make the selections out of that pool. It basically runs on the academic schedule. That leaves me time to write in the summer, on breaks, or at night after my son goes to sleep. I’m also part of a women’s faculty writing group. We meet once a week. I save those three hours, and sometimes that’s the only time that week that I get to write.
TS: What is the Lit Mag Madness competition and how did it feel when Iron Horse won this year?
KC: We haven’t won the whole thing yet. We won the sweet sixteen. Currently we’re in the elite eight. The contest is modeled on the March Madness. The lit mag attached to a school who is in March Madness got in the bracket. At first we just thought it was kind of fun. Then everyone got into it. We asked the students at the English minors fair to vote for us. English professors were asking their students to vote. I was teaching a class when the competition bracket was ending and asked my class to vote. We checked at the end of class and we won. We were so excited. Unfortunately, the basketball team is out but we are forging on. I don’t know what’s in it other than glory. We’re going to have a pizza party.
Katie Cortese is the author of Make Way for Her and Other Stories (University Press of Kentucky, 2018) and Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories (ELJ Publications, 2015). She teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University where she serves as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review.
Tonissa Saul is a writer from Arizona and an intern with Hayden’s Ferry Review. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Write On Downtown, The Comstock Review and the anthology Miles to Go, Promises to Keep Volume II. Additionally, her art has appeared on the cover of Rinky Dink Micro Poetry.