Interview with Short Story Contest Winner Wendy Lym

Writers and artists are all around us, y’all. In this case, Wendy Lym is a colleague and neighbor (her office is just down the hall from mine) at the community college where I teach. Since we’re also friends on social media, I learned that she won the Texas Observer’s 2017 short story contest with Muriel, and I knew I had to interview her about her off-campus life as a writer. Enjoy!
—Jen Hamilton

You’re a mom, and you also have a full-time job. How do you fit writing into your schedule? Share your tricks with us.

photo of Wendy Lym's winning short story cover page in The Observer
You can catch a print copy of The Observer or read “Muriel” online. (Photo by Ben Reed)

Besides coffee? Prosecco? Really, I don’t have tricks. I am a pretty high energy person, so that helps. I think I do what lots of us do—put the time to write on the calendar and really work to make it happen. And I fail a lot! After years of grad school and running my kids everywhere, I cultivated the ability to do an intense amount of work in a very short period of time. No amount of writing is too small. I try to make it happen wherever and for however long I have.

During my youngest’s Senior year of high school, I was absolutely reeling at the thought of her leaving home. My kids are eight years apart, which means I started parenting in my early 20s and had kids at home until my mid-40s. At that point, I made a vow to myself that as my nest got empty, I would say yes to as many opportunities as I could. And, I was determined to write a novel. So, I did—I think I channeled a lot of my energy into the novel to kind of help myself keep a grip on becoming an empty nester. I think it was a good use of that time!

Describe your experience with writing groups (or accountability partners).

I think the writing group simultaneously pushes me to take risks and offers me the softest place to land with new ideas. Each woman offers something to me that enriches what I do. All three of my current projects and the short story that won the prize began in the incubator of my writing group.

Each of us writes in a different genre or sub-genre, which means when we share what we read, we get to explore different literary modalities. And each writer has different strengths—I have learned so much about dialogue, imagery, regionalism, and characterization from my writing group. Writing can be so self-focused; the community they provide absolutely improves the words on my pages.

2016 and 2017 have been interesting years, huh? How has the political landscape affected your writing—or your ideas about the role of a writer?

Yes. The first thing the political landscape did was choke and muffle me. I felt personally violated—like so many other people I know. I am incredibly patriotic (that’s what my kids say, in fact, they call it adorable) because I so deeply and profoundly believe in the Enlightenment. I am not naïve, but I get chills at the notion of making a freaking country based on treating people equally. It’s like trying to bring a poem or Platonic ideal to life. So, I felt in that moment—and still today—like I was losing my country and all its promise. It’s still hard to swallow. And the drive to get involved, to call my representatives every day, to march–all that took away from the energy and time I could spend writing. I don’t think I wrote anything new and decent after November 2016 until the first week of February 2017. I wrote a political piece after seeing Hamilton in New York with my mom and daughter. This was right after the Women’s March, which was the first political march my mother ever attended. I got to march with her, see it through her eyes. I was so proud of her—like me, she was feeling shell-shocked. She loved the Women’s March. That was a good day.

And, I wrote, very quickly as if the thoughts arrived all at once, a piece about how seeing Hamilton made me feel hope for the very first time in a very dark period. If you know the music from Hamilton or the play, the coolest of the Schuyler sisters is Angelica. But when I saw the play, and I had streaming eyes—I cried so hard—I realized that I was never going to be an Angelica. Me, my mom, my daughter—and really, almost all the women I knew who were resisting every day—we were so much more like Eliza. Eliza is the Schuyler sister who did all the daily errands of housekeeping and child rearing. And those, I think, are the people who are really behind the resistance—daily we march, we call, we write, and we try to save democracy—the same way we keep the elementary school carnivals running smoothly and ensure that our kids get all their driver’s ed hours in, and man booths at the church fundraisers. So, the tumult of an attack on my ideals and my country really waylaid me at first. I think the shock has worn off, but I also think it colors the mood—and not in a good, productive way.

Tell us about your writing rituals, if you have them. Do you write in the same space? Or in different locations? Do you plan and outline stories before you start writing? Or do you just go for it and jump in?

If I am not at my writing group, I typically write in my house when no one else is home. I have a big white sofa downstairs and a big blue chair upstairs—both are leather. I typically get into comfy clothes (like pjs), pop open a Topo Chico, and go to town. I often put on nature sounds in the background—like running water or birds or the ocean. And then, I just go. I don’t get on Facebook or surf the net…I write. When I am done, I almost always send whatever I have written to my daughter who reads it on study breaks.As far as the novels have gone, I have had a general idea of how the story will pan out before I begin. So, like right now, I have short sketches of what I need to put in each chapter of the novel that I am close to finishing. But, I am not rigid, so if I move off on a tangent or write in a different direction, I feel OK about that. Shorter works, like poems or short stories, seem to appear pretty well formed in my imagination. I love that sensation where I just have so much to say and my fingers cannot type fast enough.

What would you tell your 20 year-old self?

I’d tell her to buy stock in Apple and Microsoft. I would tell her to grow out those bangs. I would tell her to get in the car with that classmate from London that you barely know and who is driving to Berlin to see the wall come down—don’t hesitate. He’s not a serial killer. I would tell her not to miss seeing Nirvana live. I would tell her that she needs to spend as much time with her grandfather as possible because dementia is setting in soon. I would tell her to travel every two to three years no matter what—go alone if you have to. I would tell her that her city is Rome, and always will be. I would tell her to take up yoga sooner rather than later. I would tell her that TV is going to get really good in the 2000s so budget time accordingly. I would tell her that having kids was going to be the best thing she ever did. I would tell her that she’s always going to feel twenty, even when she’s nearly fifty.

 

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