Author Q&A: Kara Vernor

Kara Vernor’s fiction has appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, matchbook, No Tokens, Green Mountains Review, and elsewhere and has been included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions, the 2015 Best Small Fictions finalists, and Outpost 19’s Golden State 2017anthology. She has received scholarships from the Elizabeth George Foundation and Mendocino Coast Writer’s Conference, and her fiction chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press.

TBL Author Q&A Series: Kara Vernor

This is one in a series of brief interviews with a diverse array of writers, editors, and other industry professionals. Check back over the coming months for more!

What started your writing career? Was there a certain event or person that led you to this career?

I had always written some but became more serious about it when I was laid off during the recession and suddenly had a ton of time. I joined a local group, Guy Biederman’s “Low-Fat Fiction,” and that gave me the community and structure that kept me going early on. I also discovered online journals at that time and realized how accessible lit had become. Prior to that, my sense of markets included only the top-tier journals, and I never saw myself gaining entry there. Up until then, I’d mostly written about indie/punk music, feminism, and my boobs.

Overall, what would you say is the most important element for crafting a story, or for discovering a new mode of creativity?

Not sure I can boil it down to one thing, but I find in my own writing that following whatever thread has the most energy is best. I may not know what it means at first, or where it will lead (I almost never know where it will lead), but sticking with it, trusting it, and having patience works out better than spending my time with a piece I understand more but am less intrigued by.

Speaking of stories, your work has been published in magazines like PANK, Wigleaf, and The Los Angeles Review. Last year, you published a short story collection titled Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song. What can you tell us about the publication process?

Around the time I began submitting, I attended a talk with the fiction writer, Stefanie Freele, and to grossly paraphrase her, she was like, if you don’t have at least twenty-five pieces pending, you’re not even trying. She said it was a numbers game in many ways, and I took that to heart. I never hit twenty-five pending submissions, but I did go from two or three to ten and was less precious about the process. I also read a ton and submitted to the journals that I thought were the best fit for my work.

I submitted a version of my collection to Split Lip Press’s chapbook contest in 2014 and was a finalist. I then submitted again in 2016. While it was pending, the new editor, Amanda Miska, read a story of mine that came out on Wigleaf and solicited me. We pulled the collection out of the contest (rather than gambling that the contest judge would choose my manuscript) and moved forward from there. I was just beginning to think seriously about looking for a publisher—I had submitted to just one other contest a couple of years prior—so I was fortunate that Amanda took interest when she did. Though I wasn’t published through the contest, I think submitting to it let her know I was interested in her press.

What is your favorite story from Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song? Why is it your favorite?

I don’t have one fave, but I tend to like best those that blend heartbreak and humor, made me cry when I wrote them, and surprised me by where they went or where they landed. A few like that are “She Could Maybe Lift a Car,” “Four Hands,” and “Thirty-Four.”

Your short story collection reads like a series of pop songs: each entry is quick, catchy, and striking. Can you tell us what inspired you to create this collection? In what ways do you think music impacts your writing?

Music was my main fascination for most of my life. I listened to it incessantly, bought as much of it as I could, went to shows weekly, and played it myself. I made zines about it and even had a show on a pirate radio station for a stint. Music and lyrics have a ton in common with flash fiction—the pithy lines, the bursts of sentiment. I didn’t set out to write flash or stories that mimicked song; rather, I think music just naturally informed my writing.

What themes do you like to explore in your work? Have they changed over time?

Sex, violence, loneliness, survival, the ways we try (and fail) to connect. They haven’t changed much over time, but what I’ve written since the collection has been a lighter take.

You also co-host Get Lit, a monthly reading series in San Francisco. Can you tell us more about that? How do you think Get Lit helps new writers/artists unearth their potential?

We’re in the North Bay—Petaluma to be exact. My co-host, Dani Burlison, and I both set out to create a space that was supportive, accepting, fun, and chill. We host three featured readers in the first hour and an open mic in the second, with a big break in the middle so people can hang out. I think the break is as important as the readings in helping people build community and appreciate each other’s work. Featured readers often tell us we have the best audience they’ve ever read for, and I think that’s because we’re casual and there’s not this huge divide between the reader and the audience. I think spaces like Get Lit give writers a comfortable venue for sharing their work, seeing how it lands with others, and gaining confidence.

Speaking of new writers, do you have any tips for combating writer’s block?

Deadlines and long walks.

Who are your literary heroes, and why? What would you do if you met them?

Too many to list, really, but since he passed recently and he’s on my mind, I’ll say Denis Johnson. He’s a hero not just for his abilities, but because he writes about people on the fringes who might be considered faithless. Without moralizing, he allows them to have these realistic and transcendent moments of grace, of connecting to something bigger than themselves. He insists on the hugeness of what it means to be human, which is a service at anytime but is needed especially now. I could have met him—he attended the last AWP in Washington D.C.—but as I’m not good with small talk, I just hung around the Melville House booth for a bit listening to him talk to other people. Is that creepy? Oh well.

After having successfully accomplished so much, what are your goals? What direction do you see your writing taking now, in terms of both craft and publication?

You’re being generous here (thank you). I experimented with writing something longer and have a draft of a short novel. I’d like to see if I can work it into something I would feel proud to publish. I’m sure I’ll also keep writing flash. I think there’s something about the one-thousand-word constraint that makes me feel I can experiment endlessly within it—that there’s always something more I can learn.

Lastly, what guidance might you give to fledgling writers?

Read a lot, write a lot, and reject more advice than you accept.

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