Yemassee Interview: 7 Questions with Sarah Mollie Silberman
Where are you from and where are you now? How does (or doesn’t) place influence your work?
I live about three blocks from where I went to preschool in Arlington, Virginia. I’ve spent a lot of my life in Arlington, but I’ve never set a story there, maybe because it’s so familiar that it’s hard for me to see clearly. I find it useful to know the places I write about, but also to have some distance. “Scuttling” is set on a college campus that’s a lot like the college I went to in rural Ohio.
What’s your number one rule of writing?
Probably that the Internet is bad for my writing. If I don’t turn off the Wi-Fi before I sit down to write, I’ll end up Googling things about the cast of The Good Wife.
What is strangest about your writing process?
I write slowly—it usually takes a few months to draft a story. I wrote “Scuttling” at a residency, so it only took a week to draft, but I remember telling a novelist there that my daily word count goal was 500 words. She looked like she felt really sorry for me.
Describe the lifespan of this piece: how did it start, how was it revised, how drastically did it change? What was the most difficult part of writing it?
I started the story thinking it would be about a girl who’s infatuated with her professor, but halfway through the first draft I realized that she’s actually in love with her roommate. So I became a lot more interested in Annie’s relationship with Eva as the story progressed. The first draft ended differently, with Annie having another chance encounter with the professor’s wife in the parking lot of the Walmart. But I sort of hated the process of writing that ending, and then my friend who read my draft was like, “I don’t get what you’re trying to do with the professor’s wife,” and I realized that I had hated writing the last scene because it was forced. I spent another week or two chewing over that last scene before I arrived at an ending that felt right.
How does (or doesn’t) this piece fit in with your larger body of work?
I’ve written several stories set on the same college campus in the past year. There’s a minor character in “Scuttling,” Ben, who has appeared in a couple of those stories. I’m interested in college students because they’re young and still forming, and they also tend to drink a lot and make bad decisions, which is useful for fiction. It’s also nice to write stories that share characters and a setting. The more you write about them, the more you figure out.
There’s so much to love about this piece, but one aspect which especially appealed to us was how it played with several different tropes concerning “forbidden” love and found a unique way to shape them together. What do you think this story has to say about how love, lust, and relationships are crafted in fiction?
That’s a hard question! The subjects I write about tend to be familiar, so I try to make them engaging by getting the details right. I knew early on that Annie’s professor was gay, in part because I didn’t want to write a story about a student sleeping with her professor. But I was also interested in the professor’s relationship with his wife—there’s intimacy and affection there, if not romantic love. That turned into a nice parallel to Annie’s relationship with Eva.
So, there’s a dog in this story called Mike the Dog. He’s real, right? Can Yemassee, like, hang out with him for a weekend? Maybe throw the Frisbee around?
Mike the Dog is not real! But my affection for dogs with people names is very real.
Sarah Mollie Silberman holds an MFA from George Mason University and lives in Virginia. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Booth, CutBank, Juked, Nashville Review, and Southern Indiana Review, and one of her stories was listed as “Notable” in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2015.