|Nina Mc Conigley|
I was hooked.
It comes as no surprise to me that Nina's short story collection Cowboys and East Indians, is the 2014 PEN Open Book Award winner.
Nina holds an MFA from the University of Houston and an MA from the University of Wyoming. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, Orion, Salon, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Short Fiction, and The Asian American Literary Review among others. She lives in Laramie, Wyoming and teaches at the University of Wyoming.
Suprose is honored to feature Nina Swamidoss McConigley on this Tête-à-Tête series.
I think the way many writers do – I wrote a lot as a kid, and then wrote a lot in a journal as a teenager. In college, I tried a lot of other majors, but always came back to English (I am a big reader) and then to writing. But post-college, I worked for an insurance company. It sealed the deal I wasn’t good at a desk job (although writing is a pretty big desk job…).
What has been your biggest takeaway, living as the "wrong kind of Indian" as you so beautifully put it, in the rural west?
I don’t know what I have taken away per se, but I certainly have subsequently spent a lot of time thinking about identity and what forms our identity – is it land or our parents, or both?
Describe your writing style, is it structured or does it change from project to project?
The story collection and a lot of stories that weren’t in the book up until recently were my recent projects. So my style I would say is rather simple. I love Laura Ingalls Wilder, and mostly because she is so simple and not sentimental. I strive for that. I wish I was a more lyrical writer, but I am not.
The novel has allowed me to have more space to wander – which I am not sure if that is a curse or a blessing!
What do you like most about the process of creative writing?
Just making sense of the world around me. My writing is the only way I know how to do that.
Who are some authors you read growing up?
A lot of British writers. I devoured Enid Blyton and Agatha Christie. I also love LM Montgomery, and of course, Laura Ingalls Wilder.
Later, I studied in Oxford, and only read books by the Romantics or the Victorians. I was quite obsessed by Vanity Fair.
What are some books on your nightstand, that are waiting to be read?
FIND ME by Laura van den berg, IF THE TABLOIDS ARE TRUE WHAT ARE YOU, by Matthea Harvey, and I cannot wait for Citizen by Claudia Rankine.
Which authors do you go to for solace and inspiration?
I worked at Tara Books in Chennai, and I find every one of their books to be inspiring and comforting. Especially their books done by Gond artists.
But otherwise, Raymond Carver, EM Forster, Arundhati Roy, RK Narayan, Claire Messud, JM Coetzee.
What are some favorite things to do, when you hit a writer’s block?
Walk on the prairie. And honestly, I am a much more of a binge-y writer. So I often have long periods that I am not working. So in that time, I think, I read, I watch movies and look at art. I try to just let the story marinate.
What do you think makes a good writer?
Doing the work. Supporting others. Reading books widely. And writing even when you hear no all the time!
The publishing marketplace is getting more and more challenging, what have your experiences been?
It’s hard. It’s lovely if you can sign with an agent who will really go to bat for you. That helps so much. But perhaps it’s naïve to think this –but I do believe if you are writing good work, it will find a home. It may be hard and not in the form you expected – but the world wants great work. My book was rejected 20 + times, and it’s done okay!
Please tell us about you works in progress, and what's next for you?
Working on a novel. It’s set in 1980’s Wyoming, involves two families living together, and a murder!
Otherwise, I am teaching!