Interview with Julie Lockhart, Runner-Up in the Q3 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, September 17, 2023
Julie Lockhart loves an adventure in wild places. She spent most of her career in academics, where she published in peer-reviewed journals, such as Critical Issues in Environmental Taxation and Advances in Accounting Education. During the last years of her career, she led a grief support nonprofit, where she discovered the beauty and depth of personal stories, writing about her experiences to help grieving people feel less alone. Her essays have appeared in the Ashland Daily Tidings, Minerva Rising, the Journal of Wild Culture, and bioStories. You can read more at: Julie lives in Port Townsend, WA. 

---- Interview by Angela Mackintosh
WOW: Congratulations on placing as a runner up in the Q3 2023 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest! I love the creative form of your essay from the very opening to the last line. What was your inspiration to begin writing "Recipe for Forgiveness"?

Julie: Thank you for your kind words, Angela. I have been fascinated with form/structure in approaching my stories. And I get inspired in the courses I have taken through WOW and other venues. All three of my essays that have made it to the top ten list have come from the challenging and creative assignment options that Chelsey Clammer offers. When I write about my life, I try to focus on how I’ve grown through the difficulties. Stories roll around in my head, and I need an infusion of inspiration to make them feel worth writing about. I search for ways to write where it doesn’t sound like I’m just carping about someone, such as my mother. I’ve worked really hard to move past the wounding from my childhood and early adulthood, and I’d like to inspire others to see that healing is possible. This line, “Keep baking until your thoughts of her become soft and fluffy frosting,” is really a statement that there’s always another level of healing and forgiveness to strive for. And that’s OK!

WOW: Oh yes, I simply adore that line! It’s very encouraging to readers, and such an important point you made about working past old wounds. I think innovative forms like yours certainly help that materialize. I also love Chelsey’s workshops! What was the most challenging aspect of writing this essay?

Julie: When I challenge myself to create a unique story structure, I often don’t yet know where the story is going. I find myself churning ideas around in the middle of the night, especially if there’s a deadline for a course or submission date. The challenges in writing “Recipe for Forgiveness” were to figure out how to put it together, what to include and not include, and to get enough sleep!

WOW: Ha! I'm a fan of sleep, but your hard work shows. The recipe at the end blew me away, both for the fantastic tips about baking vegan (flax egg!) and for the way you found compassion for yourself and your mother. Baking vegan is a lot about making little changes and substitutions. I remember making buttermilk by mixing almond milk and apple cider vinegar in a bowl to curdle. It's a smart metaphor for how you were conditioned to do things growing up vs. how you carved your own path. You always use such creative structures that I imagine you have some literary influences. Who are some authors who've inspired your writing?

Julie: Because I spent most of my career in academics (even though my field of accounting might sound boring), I love studying the more “academic” side of creative nonfiction. For example, reading Brenda Miller’s A Braided Heart: Shaping the Lyric Essay gets my creative juices going. I also loved her essay on “How to Meditate.” I’m inspired by “The Pain Scale,” by Eula Biss, partly because I’ve experienced chronic pain, and also the structure really works. And I found that Gary Kadlec’s essay on cancer, “I am Al’s Lymphoma,” got me to see that you can write nonfiction from a different perspective; in this case he has personified the cancer that tells the story.

WOW: We have a similar taste in essayists. I’ve read those essays except for Gary Kadlec’s, and now I will have to check that out. I also love Eula Biss’s essay and one of my favorites from her is “Time and Distance Overcome.”

Switching gears here, I know you are a nature lover, and I saw your website about your favorite hikes! What are some recent adventures, and can you share anything you've learned from them?

Julie: There’s always something to learn from adventures in wild places, whether it’s looking for “signs,” such as seeing an eagle when I need guidance on a personal challenge, or figuring out my limits as I age. Just last week, while hiking a stunning trail to the top of a local mountain, I experienced profound gratitude that I can accomplish such a hike at the age of 65. A good example of my nature writing was recently published. It’s an exciting kayaking adventure with reflections and learnings:

WOW: Oh that’s a beautiful essay, Julie! I love how you explore memory through the vivid backdrop of kayaking. It has wonderful rhythm and pace, and almost mimics the motion of kayaking. Some writers I know listen to music while they write, others light a candle to get in the mood. Do you have any writing rituals that help get you in the zone?

Julie: I have a writing group that for years has met almost every week on Zoom. We do 20-minute hand-written, timed writings, which is how I often start the work on an essay idea. Sometimes if I’m stuck in the middle of a piece, I’ll set a timer and write by hand, because I’ve learned it’s a great way to move the work forward.

WOW: So true! Timers are a great way to break through any block. What are you working on right now? 

Julie: I’ve accumulated a large “pile” of digital rejection letters from submissions. I’m sorting through these essays to see if there’s a different way to write the story. For example, I had written an essay about my ex-husband’s death when our daughter was six. I decided to rewrite it from his perspective, as though he’s hanging around us “on the other side” and watching what’s going on. I may try braiding in parts of the original essay to see how it shapes up. I may also braid in some research about the grief experience. I like the challenge of creating something new from a stale-feeling piece of writing.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my writing!

WOW: That's a creative, ambitious project, and I wish you the best of luck with it, Julie! Thank you so much for chatting with me today. I’m a fan of your work and hope to read more of your writing soon.

Find out more about WOW's creative nonfiction and flash fiction contest here: 


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