Sunday, June 02, 2019
Interview with Kristina Neihouse: Third Place Winner of the Q2 2019 Creative Nonfiction Contest
Kristina Neihouse moved to Key West in 1995. An off and on again creative writer since college, she got back to it after completing her Master’s degree in 2007. She won The Studios of Key West 2014 Writes of Spring competition and placed 2nd in the 2018 Tennessee Williams Short Story Contest. In 2017 she was awarded an Anne McKee Artist Fund Grant to publish her first novel Knowing When to Leave. In 2019 this debut novel won a silver medal in the Florida Book Awards Young Adult category.
Kristina is a full-time librarian who spends her time reading, writing and talking about writing. She serves as Secretary of the Key West Writers Guild, and spends Saturday nights in the Monroe County Detention Center talking with female inmates about writing and other life choices. Read their work at Write On Published.
Check out Kristina’s occasional blog at KAN writes.
If you haven't done so already, check out Kristina's award-winning story "Death and an Abscess" and then return here for a chat with the author.
WOW: Congratulations on placing in the Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing this piece and how did it and your writing evolve as you wrote?
Kristina: In one sense I started this piece within days of my friend’s death; the timing of the last text, the timing of the abscessed tooth. An essay needed to be written. Through working on this piece, I discovered writing in the 2nd person, directing the writing to “you.” Looking back, I realized, I inadvertently slipped from “he” to “you” in a lot of my writing about him. It’s been an interesting process, writing this way. I’m slowly working on a collection of these essays about/to him.
WOW: It’s interesting to hear how your writing naturally slipped into that “you” perspective. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay?
Kristina: I now enjoy writing personal essays. It helps to step back from a situation and think of it as a story. It’s also helped me process my friend’s death. Writing these pieces brings him back to me, mainly his laughter; I can hear it when I write something I know he’d like.
WOW: I’d love to hear more about your work at the Monroe County Detention Center. In what ways has your involvement with the women inmates affected you or inspired your own craft?
Kristina: I get a kick out of saying I spend Saturday nights in jail! I’ve been going in for over ten years. The group is called Write On! We bring composition notebooks and golf pencils, writing prompts and inspiration. We are a true non-profit; it’s just a couple of us volunteering to spend our time and money. Luckily, in its most basic form, writing is an inexpensive art form.
Writing is a great life skill to practice while incarcerated. Examples we’ve seen: Write about anger instead of getting in a fight and thrown in lock. Or write the letter you may never send to an estranged family member. Then keep writing it, over and over, until maybe you can send it.
I don’t know how it inspires or affects my writing. I just enjoy it, spending time with a group of women, talking about writing, and other life choices. Theirs are not my stories to tell. I want them to tell their stories, even if it’s only to themselves by writing in their notebook.
Most Saturdays by the end of the day I’m tired, but when we leave the jail I feel energized, sometimes saddened by the stories we hear, sometimes hopeful by the stories we hear. But I feel better for having spent time with them.
WOW: What an amazing experience. Thank you for sharing it with us. It gives a new perspective on the importance and power of creative thought and writing. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you?
Kristina: As far as personal essays, and about my friend’s death in particular, I found Maggie Nelson’s Bluets and Sarah Manguso’s The Guardians incredibly inspiring in terms of form and voice, and experimenting with both.
As far as writing in general, I read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Wild Mind repeatedly, especially as they are a staple of my volunteer work in jail. “Keep the pen (or pencil) moving” is fabulous advice!
I also go back to Anne Dillard’s The Writing Life every few years. And, I recently discovered Writing by Marguerite Duras. After only a few pages I’m pretty confident it will also be a favorite.
WOW: Great recommendations! If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?
Kristina: Read as much as possible. Keep writing. Write for yourself. Write what you want to read, just keep writing. Keep submitting your writing. Keep applying for contests, workshops, etc. Rejection is relative. Read read read. Write write write. Submit submit submit. Apply apply apply. Did I mention rejection is relative? Keep writing. (But still go to grad school and become a librarian!)
WOW: Ha! Thanks for the advice! Anything else you’d like to add?
Kristina: Thank you to the Nonfiction Fringe workshop at the 2019 Key West Literary Seminar lead by Emily Raboteau, that wonderful experience inspired me to submit this essay to the contest. Thank you to WOW and Chelsey Clammer for the amazing workshops, and all-around awesomeness. And, thank you to me, for still writing (and submitting, and applying.) Write On!
WOW: Thanks so much for your thoughtful responses. And thank you for sharing your writing with us!
Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen.