Four Questions on Farsickness is an interview series with creative writers for whom place is essential to their work. Each writer answers the same four questions—and featured here is award-winning fiction author Lenore Myka.
1. Share a little about where you’re from. When you were growing up, what place—real or imagined—most fascinated you, and why?
I’m originally from a suburb of Buffalo, New York. If you’ve ever met anyone from the Buffalo area you know that we are fierce defenders of the place. Most people who have lived there as transplants also express their love of all things Buffalo; I have a colleague currently who did her PhD work there and has told me on more than one occasion how much she misses it. It demands a certain loyalty the way Rust Belt cities tend to do. I’m working on a novel set there now.
But as a child and teenager I had little appreciation for it. I really just wanted to get to a big city—New York, Chicago—or go to Europe. Anywhere foreign or seemingly so. I’ve always had a restless spirit that was with me from an early age; I think seeing those ads for the Peace Corps really sunk in somewhere deep. I watched too many movies, frankly. I had romanticized notions of what living in New York City might be like—the whole starving artist thing. So glamorous! (Not.) Same too with Europe; in college I wanted to hang out in Gertrude Stein’s salon. Active imagination, obviously.
2. What travel has been a particular inspiration to your work?
Well, most obvious is my short story collection King of the Gypsies, which was inspired by my time as a Peace Corps volunteer living in Romania. But most destinations inspire me in one way or another, really any location that is different from what I’m used to. I’ve written stories set in retirement communities in Florida, in foreign countries, in upstate domestic settings. There is a relationship between humans and our environment, whether we’re aware of it or not. I’m interested in how we embrace or bump up against those aspects of our environment that challenge us. I’m embodying those ideas right now. We’ve just moved to Florida and I’m trying to figure out where I fit into the landscape, if I do at all. I think it’s not an uncommon experience for a writer to have. I’m paraphrasing here but I once heard Russell Banks say it was necessary for writers to be outside of the community or place in which they lived; otherwise, integration would result in a lack of objectivity, a false and biased representation of the place.
3. Where do you “escape to” to recharge creativity?
I like quiet for recharging. I need to feel space in my brain, air or something. Anywhere in nature or quasi-nature—I don’t need to hike the Rockies to feel sated; a city park will do, a small trail in the woods. The beach is very satisfying to me. I like water, I have since I was a little child; I find it meditative, all that lapping and receding. We live ten minutes from the beach now and I cannot get there enough. Anywhere I can avoid screens, machines, lots of chatter. It seems that nowhere where humans interact is this possible anymore; even libraries are noisy these days. I’m obsessed with the off-grid idea.
4. Where would you most like to travel to next?
Well, we just moved, so mostly I feel an obligation to discover the new world in which I now live; there is so much! But if I were to think big: Vietnam is on the list; I used to work with the Vietnamese community in Boston and have felt an affinity for that culture ever since. New Zealand; I mean, why not New Zealand? And I wish I could make an annual trip to Italy just to be surrounded by the beauty, food, and wine that is that place.
Lenore Myka is the author of King of the Gypsies: Stories, winner of the 2014 G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize for Short Fiction. A recipient of a 2015 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, her fiction has been selected as distinguished by The Best American Short Stories and The Best American Non-Required Reading series, and has appeared in New England Review, Iowa Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review, among others. Find her online at www.lenoremyka.com and on Twitter: @lenoremyka.