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 this week is award-winning short story author Evan Morgan Williams.
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 am from the West, broadly defined. Born in Seattle, raised in Portland, college in Colorado, and a few years kicking around Montana before settling back in Oregon. I am from a West that has resonated with me: empty highways, scree slopes, prairie vistas, river bottoms, rainy seashores, Barry Lopez short stories, Elton Bennett prints—I don’t lay original claim to these places, but I’m not sure many people know the same West as I, or even find the same things about the West to be fascinating. For example, when I was going to college in 1982, my parents’ Dodge Omni broke down in near Napa, Idaho. My parents put me on a Greyhound that stopped in every little town across southern Idaho, northeast Utah, and southern Wyoming, before dropping into Colorado. I saw hours of lushly barren country roll by. I smelled oil wells in Rock Springs Wyoming in the middle of the night. And I reconciled all this with the humanities education waiting for me at Colorado College. Is this anyone’s common experience?
One of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been to is The Bighorns, a mountain range on the Wyoming-Montana border. For awhile, I guarded these experiences, kept them private, partly because the Bighorns were so pristine and beautiful, but also because other writers, in my opinion, got them wrong, committing excessive reportage, or, worse, the error of imposition. But I was always thinking, noticing, feeling. I should emphasize that on my many trips to the Bighorns, I was completely alone. It was essentially a non-linguistic experience. Try writing about that! Well, I have.
2. What travel has been a particular inspiration to your work?
I don’t take notes while I travel. Writing about the place while I’m inhabiting it has always proved a disaster for me. Reportage begins taking over from the imagined space I need to carve out for myself. I just returned from Croatia. Did I write about the trip? No. Will a hundred images from the trip drift into my stories? Absolutely, and I will welcome them. The heat. The buzz of crickets in the air. Tossing back the swill of Croatian liquor in my glass, sucking the last bits from the lemon, chewing down the ice. That sort of thing.
3. Where do you “escape to” to recharge creativity?
I escape to my backyard. There is a covered area with a sofa. I can lie on my back and study the yellow spruce boards and the blue sky beyond. There’s a big cherry tree next door. I love this space when it’s hot and the wind is whipping up the trees. I think of this image as if it were in a frame, like an Edward Hopper painting. It helps me recharge because it’s where I can let distractions go. I can empty my thinking.
In all these answers, I’m sensing the role of “not-words” in my process. There is experience, and there are words, but never do they meet. Even the words themselves, I tend to approach them sensorially, not as a medium for conveying information to a reader, but more like bricks to stack, beads on a string, or bits of food to chew. Credit years of reading Hemingway’s short stories for that.
4. Where would you most like to travel to next?
I would like to go back to Croatia, to the region called Istria. It was a beautiful place, a restorative place; the quick and dirty is to liken it to Tuscany, but it has its unique Croatian stamp. Again, keeping experience and word apart, I would get the most out of the place if I had a draft of a novel ready for me to immerse myself in revising. Holed in my room all day, then coming out in the evening to hang out with the old men in the square, eating a long late dinner, maybe going for a swim.
Evan Morgan Williams‘ collection of stories, Thorn, won the Chandra Prize at BkMk Press (University of Missouri-Kansas City). The judge was Al Young. Williams has published over forty stories in such magazines as Witness, Antioch Review, Kenyon Review, and ZYZZYVA. He has an MFA from the University of Montana, tattered and faded, and he has taught in a public school for over twenty years. Most recently, he has held a Writers in the Schools residency, an AWP Writer to Writer mentorship, and he gave the inaugural reading in Eastern Oregon University’s revived Ars Poetica Visiting Writer Series. He has stories current in Phantom Drift, The Timberline Review, and Weber: the Contemporary West. Find him online at evanmorganwilliams.blogspot.com and on Twitter: @EvMoWi.
[Photo Credits: All photos by the author except Bighorn Mountains by Conniemod]