Contributor Spotlight: Kate Crosby

Headshot.KCrosbyKate Crosby’s short story “Nesting Dolls” is part of Issue 74 of Bellingham Review. Subscribe or purchase a single issue through our Submittable page here.

What would you like to share with our readers about the work you contributed to the Bellingham Review?

When I started this piece I had recently gotten into baking. My favorite recipe was for Guinness gingerbread, the dessert I more-or-less borrowed for the story. The process of making the bread satisfied me as much as the taste. The most exhilarating moment was adding a pinch of baking soda to a pot of boiling Guinness stout. I loved watching the whole concoction expand and rise. This is also my favorite part of writing—that frothy magic. I am always thrilled when I find the story-equivalent of baking soda to incite a kind of narrative chemistry. It might be an image, a line of dialogue, a detail about setting. In this story, the gingerbread became that ingredient. It was the center from which the rest of the story grew.

Tell us about your writing life.

I wrote a lot of poems as a kid and was a sucker for predictable rhymes. I filled sketchbooks with drawings and stories. In fifth grade I embarked on a chapter book about cats which I cranked out on my dad’s typewriter using only my index fingers. I applied copious amounts of Wite-Out to parts I wanted to alter or fix. I dabbed at the page with my gunked-up brush, so in the end my story was covered with large white welts. Today my process is more or less the same. I write a lot. I edit more. The modern, virtual cutting and pasting makes my whole messy process look cleaner and more civilized than it actually is. Underneath the final copy is a long history of digressions and false starts.

Which non-writing aspect of your life most influences your writing?

My dad had a back injury when I was young and was often relegated to his bed or the couch for weeks or months at a time. During these episodes he would read to me. This was long before I had learned to read on my own. He would stop at certain points in a familiar book and I would continue from memory. I have no doubt that this experience fostered my love of stories and words and the rhythms of language. I was also a very outdoorsy kid and spent a lot of time in the woods. I built forts and climbed trees in search of secret places to draw and read and invent. My imagination was always in high gear.

What writing advice has stayed with you?

I once heard Michael Cunningham say that fear is the biggest hindrance to writing well. He said that the best writers are those who aren’t afraid to write poorly. They do not worry about how their work will be received or whether and where they will publish it. They write because the act of writing is fun. This is a great reminder when motivation starts to wane. Sure, writing is hard work but it’s also about invention and play. The very act is its own reward.

What is your favorite book (or poem, essay, short story)? Favorite writer(s)?

I am in awe of Lorrie Moore‘s ability to weave so much wit and substance into a single sentence. The final paragraph of Amy Hempel’s “In the Cemetery Where Jolson Is Buried” never fails to knock the wind out of me. George Saunders’ “Sticks” taught me to understand and appreciate flash fiction. The first time I read it, I instantly felt the power of its economy.

What are you reading right now?

Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream and Margaret Atwood’s Hag-seed.

What project(s) are you working on now, or next?

I am working on a linked story collection called Fond and Foolish which focuses on various characters in a single school system. Although the stories are purely fictional, the concept grew from my experiences as an English teacher. A few years ago, I began to fantasize about one day opening a familiar text to find that the story had changed. Lear’s Fool remains until the bitter end; Ethan Frome avoids the tree. This collection, which includes elements of magical realism, is a response to that fantasy. It is also a response to the very real joys and challenges of life in a high school.

Anything else our readers might want to know about you?

When I feel creatively stuck, I put down whatever I’m working on and go for a run. Running has always been a natural complement to writing. I competed in cross country and track in high school and college, and I have since trained for and run a number of races including the Boston Marathon. Distance running and story-making share so much: the need for stamina, the varied terrain, the joy of a second wind. I have worked through countless scenes while trail running in Vermont or jogging along Boston’s Charles River. When I dwell less in my brain and more in my body, I am better able find a story’s pulse, to know what a character most deeply wants and what she stands to lose.

KATE CROSBY lives in Boston and teaches literature and creative writing to high school students in Reading, Massachusetts. Her short stories have appeared in Pleiades, The Journal, Beechers Magazine, and Bartleby Snopes. Her work has recently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of Small Fiction.