BJI: Can you give us some background on Cross Yourself?
LS: Let’s see. It was part of my MFA thesis, although little bits of it had been taking form in notebooks before then. I lived for a while near the Hasty Market that inspired the story. I would often go in the evenings with a roommate, just to get out of the house. I never went as late as in the story, but we would sometimes go around 9, maybe 10pm. It seemed like a different world, stepping into the bright store from the quiet, dark streets.
However, that real-life Hasty Market isn’t exactly the Hasty Market of the story, as real-life inspirations are never the same as their fictional counterparts. The Hasty Market of the story is also a Dairy Queen where I worked a long time ago. I did occasionally work the late late shift there–I forget the schedule, maybe until 4am? It was across the street from a bunch of bars, and people did come in after closing time. Serving ice cream to really drunk young people that late at night makes for a lot of good stories, and for a strange sense of alternate reality compared to the shifts during the day.
I think there are a lot of environments like that – ones that we encounter in our daily lives that seem very normal, but they have undertones of very strange mood, atmosphere, clientele, situations.
So I was interested in this kind of setting for a story. I was also interested in parent-child relationships. At the time that I wrote Cross Yourself, I wrote several stories about parents and children. I didn’t realize it until I began collecting the stories together, and then I noticed how obsessed I seemed! I think I find it an appealing subject because everyone has some experience of it. Even if you don’t have children, you are someone else’s child. Whether parents and children are close or distant, dead or alive, etc, every person comes from other people. It’s an unavoidable connection, a universal condition of life, yet experienced very differently by everyone.
BJI: Have you ever worked in a convenience store or other job that gave you “time to think”? What did you think about?
LS: I have worked in several cashier/food service/customer service jobs. Some gave me “time to think,” some didn’t. Maybe more than time to think, these jobs gave me a chance to see all kinds of different people, and to observe them. You really learn a lot about people when you serve them food. Food is something a lot of people seem to have very strong opinions about! Anything they are paying for, I think. Some people are incredibly decent to workers in customer service roles, and some people are really, really terrible to them. Because I have been behind the counter dealing with the public so much, I wonder a lot about other people working customer service jobs. What their lives are like when people aren’t yelling at them about burnt cheeseburgers or incorrect change for their Swedish Berries.
BJI: Stars play a huge role in Cross Yourself. Do they carry a personal significance for you?
LS: I’ve always found them interesting, but I don’t know a lot about them. I can’t identify more than a few constellations. I think their huge role in the story comes from my writing process. I usually write a draft of a story in one rush. Then I set it aside for a long time. When I go back and read over the draft, I try to pay attention to images, words, ideas that recur. I often find things I didn’t realize I had written into the story. Sometimes the story seems to be about something completely different from what I expected when I wrote the first draft. I like to draw out those little details, find new ways of making them have meaning.
So the stars in the story came out a lot in the revision process. Personally, I do find stars and constellations interesting in their mythology, their history. Their beauty. Their mystery. Their omnipresence. In Wisconsin, where I live right now, I can go outside and look up at the sky and see the Big Dipper or Cassiopeia, and Bryan, you can go outside and see the same thing in Toronto, and Jackie can see the same in Boston. It gives a sense of connectedness, and of familiarity in a world that is often strange, especially if you find yourself living in a place foreign to you, as Juan/Joan does.
Not related to the story, but speaking of stars, a friend of mine showed me a very cool app on his iPhone the other day. You can hold up your phone to the sky, and the screen finds constellations, traces the lines between the stars and identifies them for you. Maybe everyone else already knows about this, but I hadn’t heard of it, and it’s very neat! It exists in a different world from the one where I used to hold a cardboard wheel up to the sky.
BJI: You’re a creative writing MFA. What’s stuck with you the longest?
LS: I think the importance of reading carefully, learning from other works. Also technical aspects of craft that I hadn’t encountered or thought of before. Writing for me was always about something very intuitive, and driven by emotion, sound, image. I still write my first drafts the same way, but I revise now in a much more informed, systematic way because of my time in the program.
It also gave me the opportunity to meet an amazing group of writers, a community I now miss very much!
BJI: Last question. What excites you most about online/digital storytelling?
LS: The possibilities for new formats and methods of storytelling.
I get really excited about people who are using the internet to make new things that wouldn’t be possible in traditional publishing. I will always love books that I can hold and smell and take in the bath and pile all over my apartment, but there are new and different things the internet can do that paper cannot do, or would struggle to do. I see this in the unusual and marvelous sites (eg. The Tulse Luper Network), and also in the sites that provide stories in more traditional forms but use the internet to reach other audiences, market in new ways, or provide supplemental content. I also really enjoy the new possibilities for collaboration among different arts and media–for example, Ryeberg’s curated video.
stories by Lana Storey