Staring at Walls: An Interview with Featured Author LaTanya McQueen

LaTanya McQueen’s story, “The Howler,” is featured in this year’s summer issue. We asked her a few brief questions about her writing. Here are her answers.

Q: Do you have any super secret rituals that help your writing process?

A: I do a lot of staring at walls. By “a lot” I mean I spend a good couple of hours sometimes just staring at a blank wall in my apartment. I realize this makes me sound sort of ridiculous, but it’s because the bulk of my writing is done beforehand in my head. I used to worry more about this when I was younger because I felt if I wasn’t putting words on the page I was somehow failing, but I’ve learned it’s just part of my process.

Q: What are you reading at the moment?

A: I’m reading for my comprehensive exams and I also tend to read multiple books at once so right now it’s Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Percival Everett’s Erasure, and Oreo by Fran Ross. I also just got Matthew Derby’s Super Flat Times and have been reading that too for fun. I regret not reading it earlier because it’s pretty great.

Q: What do you think the future of the printed word will be in the next 50 years?

A: You know, I have an e­reader and I think I’ve only read one thing on it. I buy mostly printed books and I think most of my friends do as well. There’s something about reading a book, the tactile experience of turning the pages, that I don’t think can ever be replaced. So because of that I think printed media will still be around, but then I’m reminded of my students and how they all hate printing texts out. They want to read everything on their computers no matter how long it is, so I don’t know. It makes me wonder.

Q: If this story were a pie, what kind would it be?

A: Mincemeat.

Q: Which writers do you look up to? Who has influenced your writing? What’s one thing everyone should read?

A: I’m going to answer the first two questions together—Roxane Gay because of her honesty and fearlessness in both her fiction and nonfiction. I’m in awe of writers like Robert Olen Butler and Jim Shepard for their ability to write about such a variety of experiences authentically. I’ve loved for years Amy Hempel and Mary Robison for their wit and brevity.

As for a book everyone should read—I’m going to cheat and say two (sorry). The first is a little art book by Sophie Calle called Exquisite Pain. While on a Fulbright the man Calle had been seeing broke up with her, and to deal with her heartache she created this project/book, in which she asked people the question, “When did you most suffer?” The book is a collection of their answers juxtaposed with different photographs and her own reflections on loss. I read this book around the time my mother got cancer and it had a lasting effect on me.

The second book is Notes From No Man’s Land by Eula Bliss. I’m grateful for the recent string of books that have tackled race and race relations—Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, (which, you should read all those too) but Bliss’s book just completely floored me.

Also (sorry, sorry, sorry) Gary Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way because it’s just so funny and weird and I’m not even sure what’s going on in half the stories but I love them just the same. I admire his attention to language and his desire to construct sentences as art forms in and of themselves. He’s really underappreciated as a writer.

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LaTanya McQueen has been published in The North American Review, Fourteen Hills, New Orleans Review, Potomac Review, Nimrod, Booth, and other journals. She received her MFA from Emerson College and is currently in the PhD program at the University of Missouri.