Tuesday, October 12, 2021
After attending the same high school as Ernest Hemingway (give or take 80 years), Emily Hampson studied psychology at Stanford University, battling imposter syndrome. Post-college, she abandoned California sun and date palms to return to her Midwestern deciduous roots and raise two daughters. For nearly two decades, she worked in hotels and hospitality before pivoting to the tech industry. A year later, she still boasts a robust collection of travel-size shampoo bottles. Emily is a member of the Chicago Writers Association, having published personal essays in Keystrokes, and serves as a class correspondent for Stanford Magazine. She is currently editing her debut historical novel in stolen twenty-minute increments.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on your top ten win in our Spring 2021 Flash Fiction competition! What prompted you to enter the contest?

Emily: Thanks so much for this honor! This particular piece was my first attempt at flash fiction after taking an online course through my ala mater. Honestly, it was meant as a distraction from the query trenches, to keep me writing and busy with something. I believe I happened about the contest after some late-night Google tinkering and I’m thrilled to have found this community of women writers.

WOW: We're glad to have you here! Can you tell us what encouraged the idea behind your story, “Suburban Warfare?”

Emily: I first wrote “Suburban Warfare” from a female perspective and then decided to challenge myself and flip the gender roles. I sought to explore the complexities of a marriage in peril but in a more covert fashion by focusing on what was unsaid, the miscommunications and misconnections. My goal was to have nature, or more specifically a suburban backyard setting, convey ominous energy and inform the idea of a battlefield at home. It wasn’t hard to capture some of those dismal and doleful undertones while staring out my window on a cloudy March afternoon in Chicago when I wrote it. I should also mention (for any PETA supporters especially) that no squirrels or furry rodents were harmed in the composing of this piece.

WOW: You’re also currently working on an historical novel. Can you tell us anything about it, and what your novel writing journey has been like so far? I appreciate that you said you’ve been editing it in twenty-minute increments.

Emily: Yes, this novel was my quarantine year passion project. I have another more contemporary novel gathering dust in a drawer and once I completed that first one, I thought, “Well, why not?” I suspect it’s not dissimilar to getting that first marathon under your belt, except I despise running. I’d much rather hit mile markers by tapping on a keyboard. Anyway, after seventeen years of working for the same hospitality company, I lost my job during the pandemic. With my kids both in remote school, I decided to stall my return to the workforce and dedicate my time to writing a fictionalized version of my grandparent’s immigration story out of post-war Czechoslovakia in 1945. My grandmother, Baba, is the most stubborn and plucky 96-year-old you’ll ever meet and boasts a far superior memory than most Jeopardy players. Last spring over tea and kolacky, we revisited all the microcassettes of personal interviews I’d done with her over the years, taking additional notes along the way. The novel centers around three generations of women, a daughter, a mother and a grandmother, who persevere in the face of forbidden love, family secrets, sudden loss, and domestic duty. I found it a privilege to write this book under the historical guidance of my Baba and while the editing process feels endless, I’m also determined to shepherd this story into the world in one form or another.

WOW: That sounds fascinating, best of luck with the project. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Emily: At any given time, I try to have two books in circulation. One print and one audio. I love to walk and the audiobook affords me the ability to get through my TBR pile that much faster. Although the fact that I bought a brand-new bookshelf during COVID to accommodate my insatiable novel-buying habit should tell you that I have a ways to go. I recently devoured The Paper Palace by Miranda Cowley Heller (along with legions of fellow Hello Sunshine book club fans) and was drawn in by the dual timelines, both set in present tense. For me, I’m at times less engaged with one particular timeline, but this story flowed and melded seamlessly. It was one of those books that I mourned when it ended. I’m also currently listening to V.E. Schwab’s The Invisible Life of Addie Larue and it’s masterful. At times, the writing makes me stop, slack-jawed, on the sidewalk. Julia Whelan’s narration is flawless. Honestly, I’d listen to that woman read an instruction manual.

WOW: Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Emily. Before you go, do you have a favorite writing tip or piece of advice you can share?

Emily: Often the difference of me powering off my laptop and feeling as though I had a productive writing session is simply the result of sitting in my chair in the first place. Given that I’m a mom of two young girls with a full-time job and a perpetually churning washer and dryer, I started instituting a thirty-minute rule in an attempt to improve my self-discipline. When I was knee-deep writing my novel, I would intentionally carve out a half hour to write every night. (I’m come to embrace the fact that I’m not a morning person). If I felt like stopping after that, I could move on guilt-free to watch The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or prep school lunches, but most nights, once I got in the groove, I didn’t want to stop. It was a great way to trick my brain with seemingly short commitments and get words on the page.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


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