Interview with Andreea Ceplinschi, First Place Winner of Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay contest

Sunday, January 29, 2023
Andreea Ceplinschi is a Romanian-American writer. She writes poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction, with a decided focus on poetry. Her work has appeared in Passengers Journal, 86logic, Solstice Magazine, Cathexis Northwest Press, Hare’s Paw Literary Journal, Into the Void, Prometheus Dreaming, and elsewhere. Her work explores dysfunctional childhood family dynamics, various aspects of immigration, and trauma responses linked to abandonment issues and outsider syndrome. When not writing for herself, she acts as the poetry editor for Passengers Journal.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q1 2023 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “You Might Be An Illegal Immigrant?”

Andreea: Thank you so much for selecting my piece and for giving space and acknowledgement in the WOW community. I’m grateful for this question, as it ties into my writing journey and the way it’s rooted in my Passengers family.

After a long break from the writing world, in 2020 I took a trauma writing workshop with Passengers Journal, more or less looking to hone my skills as a writer with little access to cost-prohibitive academic programs. It was during that workshop that the instructor, poet Aaron Wallace, who is no longer with Passengers but will forever be a notable influence in my life, said the following to me with regards to real-life moments I was processing through poetry: “Do you understand that happened to you, but it’s not ok?”

That one question made me feel so seen! I had no idea how alone I’d been feeling with some of the things that happened in my life. So I started writing about moments I couldn’t approach unless I put them in writing. That’s how this essay came about, and that’s why I initially submitted it to Passengers. It was one of the stories that weighed on me. It was the repeated dismissal of my humanity both as a partner in a casual sexual dynamic, and as an individual within a capitalized healthcare system. And even though I had shared that experience with some close friends who supported me and validated my feelings, it never felt resolved, and carrying it around made me feel alone with it. Writing it down, sharing it, and having my own personal “me too” acknowledged by strangers who suddenly feel a lot closer – that’s what helped me leave it behind, as well as find community in the sense that I’m not the only one carrying stuff like this around.

(Other notable CNF moment stemming from the understanding that putting trauma in writing makes it feel lighter is the piece “My Dead Mother’s Breasts” which got an honorable mention in your Q2 2021 contest. It was picked up just this month by The Blood Pudding and finally got published, after a few revisions.)

WOW:  I'm  glad to hear that writing about your experience provided cathartic benefits and a sense of community with your readers. Also, congratulations on the publication of your previous contest piece! How did your essay develop, both in your initial thinking about it and in the revision process?

Andreea: I didn’t think much about it to be honest. It was one of those stories that lived inside of me for so long, it was ready. Since childhood, I’ve developed humor and sarcasm as coping mechanisms and figured that framing a heavy topic with a bit of humor makes it easier to take in.

I started off trying to write a story about the doctor in this piece. It was going to be a short horror story, all fiction, set in dystopian future where only humans with a perfect score are allowed “maintenance and repair” in the form of healthcare. The way you achieved a perfect score was first and foremost to be part of the pure race, no immigrants, to offer proof of resources and loyalty to “the economy” and, if female, to display a willingness to breed forth within the pure race. Where things take a turn is where the narrator gets a little flustered and her accent comes out, setting off alarms in the facility and a frantic struggle to escape this doctor who suddenly turns into a rage monster and tries attacking the narrator. Pretty different than the end result! Once I started writing, the doctor character felt so real because she was real, and every line of dialogue was actually a lived experience, so it felt disrespectful to my past self to not write about the actual event. I did keep the dystopian air and sprinkled a little sarcasm on top, but the story itself was always there, just waiting to come out.

Trying to pull fiction out of my own reality showed me that the experience itself wasn’t about any singular issue, not just about a miscarriage, not just about being an illegal immigrant. It’s also about the healthcare system, capitalism, women not being believed when they’re experiencing their own bodies, and that suddenly felt more urgent and more important to communicate.

WOW:  Your experience writing this piece feels inspirational, in that we just need to start writing what calls to us, and then we may figure out the best way to tell the story as we work on it. Can you tell us about Passengers Journal, where you act as the poetry editor?

Andreea: Why, I’m so glad you asked (insert big grinning emoji).

Passengers journal has become home to me. After the writing workshop I took in 2020, I was offered a reader position for their poetry department. This opened my mind to a whole new understanding of how the literary world works. I had no idea what a “reader” was. I had no idea about a lot of things in publishing. All I knew was that Passengers saved my life (no, I’m not exaggerating for effect, but that’s a story for another essay).

After 2 years and having become poetry editor, what I can say for certain is that we’re doing our best to support voices and writing that might otherwise go unheard. I know everyone boasts supporting minorities and some might be doing it better than us, with more resources or staff with history in academia. We’re an entirely volunteer, international corps of about 80 and we give it out best.

As far as I’m concerned, Passengers has provided me with growth I would have never had the resources to achieve otherwise. Through them, I’ve had the opportunity to interview incredible artists like Prof. A.D. Carson, who presented his doctoral dissertation as a rap album called “Owning My Masters” and has since been teaching Hip Hop and the Global South at UVA, all while being an amazing artist and activist. That was my first attempt at an interview through Passengers, and the journal’s first as well. I couldn’t believe it when he said yes. What powered me through my anxiety, other than Prof. Carson’s incredible kindness with his time and thoughts, was knowing that this was an important voice to amplify, and I couldn’t waste the platform we have at Passengers, however small, by passing up the opportunity to have a conversation.

Now we’ve done many more interviews, book reviews, we even hosted a virtual conference this past summer with panels, workshops, interviews, lectures. We’ve started an ongoing open workshop program because we noticed a need for a type of peer community that typically forms in academic environments, and our mission is to build community outside of that. We’re dedicated to making art accessible, both by sharing editorial skills at little to no cost, and by taking steps to reach a wider audience, such as professionally recording every piece we publish and releasing both departmental podcast episodes discussing the work, as well as the entirety of every published issue in the form of a full-length audio episode.

I could go on for a while. I don’t know if you can tell by now, but I love my Passengers family and I will never pass up an opportunity to peacock about them!

WOW:  Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

I didn’t think I had any cohesive idea I would want to work on. For the past couple of years I’ve been writing inconsistently, in random spurts of inspiration, sometimes poetry, sometimes flash CNF, sometimes horror fiction. Quite eclectic, I know, but I often thrive on chaos.

Lately, an idea has started to crystallize, and it’s taken me by surprise. I’ve always just wanted to be a poet and thought one day I’ll have a cohesive collection focusing on my childhood, my family history of immigration (my parents, like many post-’89 parents who lost their jobs after communism fell, left Romania to join the Western-European work force; after the age of 16, I only saw my mom 4 times in person until she passed), my own stories of immigration and this overwhelming desire to belong somewhere that never quite comes true. On the other hand, lots of people have asked me to write a memoir, and I’ve always laughed it off because I can’t imagine who would be interested in my life story.

But lately it’s becoming clear that some of my life events, presented in small bites, flash pieces, essays, they do have an audience and feel relatable to some. Maybe nobody can find my life as a whole relatable, but moments are, and sharing them is often cathartic when there’s at least one “me too” reaction to them. So I’ve been considering a collection of both poetry and personal essays. It might follow a storyline, or it might end up being utter anarchy, but I will say it feels good to finally have a seed I want to plant.

WOW: What an exciting concept--to write about your life events in small bites, in different forms. I hope you pursue that idea!  Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Andreea. Before you go, can you share a favorite tip or piece of advice related to creative nonfiction writing?

Andreea:  I never thought I’d give anyone nonfiction writing advice because I’ve never focused on any particular technique, so here goes:

1. I love the poetry concept of “speaker of the poem.” I think of that every time things get deep and personal. I let my speaker feel what she needs to feel, so that I, the writer, can be ok. It creates a sense of detachment so that I can look at an event I’m writing about with more clinical eyes and see where the story makes sense and where it doesn’t, where the narrative is shaky, where the details are too much or not enough. Think of the speaker of your essay as a character rather than yourself, and be the judge of whether the story they’re telling makes sense.

2. Write about the wound when the wound is open and hurts, but edit once it starts healing. Anything I’ve ever written in a raw state is raw material. If you try to put it out into the world while it’s still raw, you’ll either overwhelm your readers or it won’t make sense. Don’t discard the raw writing, that’s the emotional core of any piece, but make sure you give it enough time to create the distinction between writer and speaker. If you can look at something you’ve written and think “I’m ok now because the speaker of this piece is not ok,” then you’re ready to edit.

3. Turn your defense mechanisms into stylistic devices. Mine are sarcasm, self-deprecating humor, and a high dose of ADHD, meaning I’m prone to oversharing, but at least I make it funny. What’s your defense mechanism? Do you dissociate and daydream? Let your speaker do that too in the most intense moment of your story, break your own tension in the very way that seems comfortable and natural to your real life.

I think this is all I have. I don’t know if it’ll help anyone, but if it helps one person, my work here is done 😀

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to ramble! And thank you for giving my essay the space and consideration, I hope it reaches the audience it needs to reach. I appreciate it.


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


Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top