Gina Tron has authored three books, and she has three more books forthcoming, including Star 67, which drops on 11/11 by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press. Her poems have been published in Green Mountains Review, Hunger Mountain, Junto Magazine, and Tupelo Quarterly. Gina has an MFA in Writing and Publishing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. In addition to writing regular true crime content for Oxygen, her reporting has been in Washington Post, VICE, The Daily Beast, and Politico. Most recently, her collection of braided essays, Suspect, was chosen as the winner of the Tarpaulin Sky Book Award (2020).
Through a series of emails over a month, Tron and I chatted about her latest book, her work as a journalist, and her idea of writing as home.
Hillary Leftwich: Can you explain the themes and language behind your latest collection of poetry, Star 67?
Gina Tron: I wanted to explore the connections and disconnect between romanticized ideas of love and actual violence. I wanted to dive into a warped female lens of what society tells us love is, and overall themes of repression and violence, stalking, and dissociation. The book is called Star 67 because, as those who grew up in the 90s, remember, it’s a way to block your number and potentially stalk or harass another person. I used to get a lot of blocked hang-up calls as a kid, and I remember sickly hoping that it was somebody in love with me and stalking me. I explored those thoughts and mixed them in with actual tidbits of real stalkers. In “Submersion,” I combined elements of the horror film “Scream” with creepy anonymous messages I was receiving at the time. Another theme is dealing with the aftermath of disconnection. After the poem “Slut Clock,” which is a poem I wrote about getting sexually assaulted and then trying to deal with police and the justice system, a lot of the poems dive into self-medicating, detachment, and trying to figure out how to connect again.
HL: Society can certainly be a warped lens. I know how hard the justice system can be navigating any type of justice, and I am sorry this happened to you. The best way to deal with such tremendous pain is sometimes to write about it. This is what makes your collection so brutal and yet beautiful at the same time. Thank you for sharing your words with the world.
Can you speak on writing as the idea of home, and how this connects with you now, in the present, as opposed to the “you” who wrote it at the time?
GT: When I first started trying to get into writing, the idea of finding a home for any work of mine seemed far-fetched. Still, I wrote with home in mind. Also, I was a much slower writer than I am now, and I was not yet used to deadlines or scrapping much of my work as I do now. I was overly attached to every single page I wrote. I’d often write with the fantasy in my head that whatever page I was working on would be published. Now, I write less with home in mind, but I trim things down with this in mind. I try to write under the mindset that nobody needs to read what I’m writing, and nobody will see it if I don’t want them to. That helps me be a bit more honest and discuss embarrassing things. Then, later I’ll go back and try to shape it into something I can submit to literary journals or publishers.
I also found a real home in the act of writing itself. Writing isn’t always fun; often, it can downright suck. But I can’t live without it. There is no other activity or skill I’ve ever been so passionate about or have felt a calling for. I felt like something was missing during the years of my life that I didn’t engage in the act of writing.
HL: I love what you said about writing less with home in mind and now trimming things down (with home in mind). When I’m reading someone’s writing, I always try to frame their words within a context of home, a home, a room, or a blueprint.
Having written both an essay collection and a recent poetry collection, can you tell us a bit about your writing process and how it differs between genres, specifically, if you approach each creation differently or dive in? Are there different blueprints for each genre you work within, or are they all housed within the same structure?
GT: I like this question. I always wonder how other people do it. I’m not sure if the way I organize my stories is a good practice or not, but it works for me; I often wonder if I could find a better way. The way I write differs upon each genre.
For journalism/reporting, I often start with transcribing quotes and then build the story from there, or sometimes I’ll start with the lead and work down. Though usually, I find I can come up with a more compelling lead if I write everything under first. For memoir or braided nonfiction essays, I imagine a timeline, and I try to keep my writing contained to that timeline and pivotal points within it. I often jump in and start writing at one pivotal and then zoom out and zoom back into another, plugging away bit by bit. For poetry, I’m all over the place. For Star 67, I took a few poems that I had already written and used them as a jumping-off point to organize the book and write other poems within the themes. I shuffled around physical printed pages to do so, as I was suggested to do at a Tupelo Press Manuscript conference last year. It helped my intended themes become more concrete, and once the foundation/skeleton was clear, everything else fell into place. With a new poetry book I completed called Employment, I wrote a poem for each job I had, and I did so in a linear way, so that framework was refreshing and allowed me to focus on the subject matter at hand.
But yeah, one thing I’ve learned through reporting is that I never obsess about the beginning or end until it’s the actual end. So, except for the job book, I’ll jump somewhere in the middle to start; often, I’ll start with a scene or a topic or a poem that I’m most driven to write about.
HL: I love hearing from writers about how they frame their work, especially from someone who has their hands in a bit of every genre. What I hear you say is your blueprint for writing is never the same for every piece, there is a skeleton that is created, and the body of the work will find its needed location once that has been established.
You mentioned journalism, and I don’t know if readers will know about your background in being a journalist and writing about (what I find) fascinating people and topics. As a multi-talented and tasked writer, can you tell us if you were always interested in journalism and why your interest lies in the investigative side?
GT: I never wanted to get into journalism; it seemed boring to me as a kid. I don’t think I understood it. Even in college, I imagined if I were a journalist, I’d be out in a foreign war or something (which I’d be fine with now.) I was obsessed with journalistic elements of current events growing up; getting angry about how school shootings were portrayed while I was in high school was one of my favorite teen pastimes. I should have known I was meant to do something with it. I got into journalism incidentally but ended up loving it. When I decided to try to get into writing professionally, I began writing some pieces for free for small Brooklyn publications: a beef jerky contest or a promo story the outlet would want for a new store that opened. I was only doing this kind of stuff because I felt it would help me eventually achieve literary accomplishments: I didn’t have a degree in writing at the time, and I was trying to build a name so I could get short stories and books published. All this led to me writing features on artists for larger magazines. I was okay with all of this, and I really enjoyed writing features and profiles on people, but I didn’t feel strongly about any of this until that path naturally evolved into journalism. A friend and I began investigating heroin in Vermont for VICE based on our curiosity of how bad it was getting. I rapidly fell in love with journalism and started doing freelance journalism work as much as I could; sometimes it would feel like activism, like a time I wrote about a man having a mental health crisis who was shot dead by police. It felt and feels very natural to me. I love trying to figure out issues like a puzzle, and it both amazes and horrifies me that I can think of an idea, delve into it, and find out something truly shocking. Often, though, it’s just highlighting a somewhat obvious problem already and showing it to the public. Building a rapport with people and digging for the truth is so rewarding. I was a full-time reporter in Vermont for a bit and getting so much information off the record (but not all are verified) was exhilarating. I feel naturally drawn to wanting to shine a light on shady spaces.
HL: Reading your response to both the journalism question as well as the writing question makes me think there isn’t much difference between the two as far as diving into an idea and finding something shocking.
Tell us, what are your plans as far as writing in the future?
GT: I have a few other poetry collections I’m happily plugging away on. And then I have a novel, and I guess it could be classified as a murder cozy, I’ve been begrudgingly plugging away on for years that I hope to finish at some point. As for projects beyond that, I’d love to do a true crime book someday on a cold case or a case that hasn’t been given as much attention or had as much examination as it should.
HL: I love this! As a huge long-term fan of true crime, I would love to read it. Would you ever consider writing about The Delphi Murders or The Freeway Phantom Murders? Just selfishly asking for me.
I look forward to reading any of your projects, as you have proven your extreme range in all genres and subjects, not as an opportunity to prove yourself prolific, but to grow as a writer and to challenge yourself. We should all strive to do the same.
GT: Yes, to both. The Freeway Phantom Murders are particularly interesting and tragic to me.
Star 67 is available for preorder at Vegetarian Alcoholic Press.
Hillary Leftwich is the author of Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How to Knock (CCM Press/The Accomplices 2019), which was featured in Entropy’s Best Fiction List of 2019, and was a finalist for the Big Other Book Award. Currently, she runs At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series, and freelances as a writer, editor, journalist, and teaches writing at Lighthouse Writers. She is a Kenyon Review scholarship recipient for 2021. Her writing is found both in print and online in The Rumpus, Entropy, The Missouri Review, Denver Quarterly, Hobart, and others. She lives in Colorado with her partner, her son, and their cat, Larry. Find more of her writing at hillaryleftwich.com.