Welcome to our new interview series, “Contributors’ Corner,” where we open the floor each week to one of our contributors to the journal. This week, we hear from Chelsea Laine Wells, whose story “We Sink Like Ships” appears in HFR 3.3.
Chelsea Laine Wells is a graduate of the Columbia College of Chicago fiction department whose work has appeared in PANK, Bluestem, wigleaf, Evergreen, Hypertext, the short fiction anthology Nouns of Assemblage (HOUSEFIRE, 2011), and an upcoming limited edition letterpress anthology to be released by Lark Sparrow Press. Honors include first place in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Awards for Traditional Fiction, nomination for a Pushcart Prize, and first place in the Guild Complex Literary Awards for fiction. Currently she lives with her husband and daughter in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas, Texas, where she teaches high school English.
Can you share a moment that has shaped you as a writer (or continues to)?
I’m a writer because of my extremely supportive upbringing. My parents were public school teachers (as I am now) and they loved what they did, but they made very little money. From earliest childhood, my mother taught my sister and me this: Do what makes you happy and don’t worry about money. That advice shaped my entire life and enabled me to always follow my instincts, so it connects directly to what kind of writer I am and the ways in which I have chosen to pursue it. More specifically to writing, in college one of my many brilliant professors, Devon Polderman, used to tell us that you have to make it happen until you can let it happen, and then let it happen until you have to make it happen. If you go around and around like that, you never stop writing. I don’t take that advice often enough, but it has gotten me through many completed pieces. Another of my brilliant professors, Christine Rice, told me one that my work had a strong connecting line between the heart and the gut. I decided that’s how I want everything I write to be, so I try to use it as a guiding principle. If I feel I’m not hitting both the heart and the gut, I don’t consider the piece a success.
What are you reading?
I am rereading The Anatomy of Wings, by Karen Foxlee, for about the tenth time, and also My Sister, My Love, by Joyce Carol Oates. Also The End of Alice, by A.M. Homes, is always close at hand.
Can you tell us what prompted “We Sink Like Ships”?
It was a title prompt I was given by HOUSEFIRE, a blog/publishing house/creative engine type deal. I loved their title prompts. I always felt hectically inspired by everything I wrote for them. That title gave me the image of two girls twisted together like conjoined twins sinking into soft earth. Then I decided I wanted time in the story to loop and connect beginning to end, going off of the conjoined twin image, and it took off from there.
What’s next? What are you working on?
Truly I don’t write as much as I should, but I have a few projects I’m toying with: a novel I started long ago about a little girl who falls in love with a desiccated corpse she finds in the woods, and she creates this personality for him and centers her life out there where his body lies rather than face the terrible reality of her home life; also a short story involving a car accident seen many times in many different ways by different people and the woman and baby who are in the car; and a very structured abecedarium piece about a girl who spent several surreal years trapped by her stepfather in a room.
Take the floor. Be political. Be fanatical. Be anything. What do you want to share?
Everyone should study what they love in college. I fervently believe this. I got my Bachelor’s in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago. Some people around me were dubious about a writing degree because it is considered useless, like many liberal arts degrees. But the time I spent there, immersed in writing and writing for hours and hours on end, surrounded by other writers, discovering incredible work both published and original, studying with accomplished professors in small classes, reading my work at readings and hearing other writers do the same—that was the most fertile and exciting time in my writer’s life, and I don’t regret a second of it. If I’m going to be paying student loans for the rest of my natural life and perhaps somehow even after death (private student loan lenders don’t care about death, do they?), I would sure as hell rather be paying for a degree that was deeply satisfying to earn and deeply nourishing to who I am as a person than some practical degree that meant nothing to me in the long run. So, if you want to go to college and get an impractical degree in writing, even if you don’t have any designs on making a career out of it, I think you should do it. Immerse yourself in what is meaningful to you and what truly defines you as a person and the rest will fall into place.