Interview with Myfanwy Collins

Myfanwy Collins is the author of the new novel Echolocation (Engine Books, March 2012) and her short stories have been published in The Kenyon Review, AGNI, Cream City Review, Quick Fiction, and Potomac Review, and others. A collection of her short fiction is forthcoming from PANK Little Books in August 2012. Myfanwy lives in Massachusetts with her husband and son.

I love the title of your novel, Echolocation, evoking a bat or dolphin’s sensory experience of identifying the relative positions of other objects and beings in the world. I thought it beautifully captures the way your characters felt their way through the novel – on instinct, and sometimes without clear vision. What was your inspiration for the novel and the title – did the concept of echolocation spark the idea for the novel? Did the story give rise to the title?

Thank you. The title came as the novel was coming together. At first it was specific to one of the characters (who has since been cut from the book), but over time, the metaphor became universal to all of the characters and from there came the title.

As for the inspiration, that came from [characters] Cheri and Geneva. When I began, the first two chapters were actually one short story. I wrote the story for the Tin House writers workshop that I attended in 2006. My workshop leader was the inspiring and generous writer and teacher, Dorothy Allison. She kept my story for the last story of the last day. I thought maybe this meant she was ambivalent about it. I was wrong. She praised it highly and told me I should keep going with these characters. She suggested I write a novel using them.

I went home and a couple of months later got to work on the novel and never looked back.

Your characters in Echolocation are flawed and damaged people, souls that have lost their way, and the plot itself takes some rather dark turns. Such characters and stories don’t appeal to everyone, but some of us love them – what do you think draws some readers to them, and others not? What draws you to write them?

Great question. I can only speak for myself as a reader. What draws me to such characters and stories in what I read is, yes, that they are dark and unlikable, but also that they are real to me. I can relate to them. My life story has sometimes been dark. I can certainly be and have been unlikable at times. I can also be forgiving and optimistic. So what I am drawn to is the complexity that makes us human. I’m guessing, then, that the readers who appreciate such stories and characters are like me in knowing and acknowledging the dark places within their lives and within their hearts.

As a writer, I tend to write from the perspective that life is complex and not always sunny. I write from the perspective that we have dark moments where there is an opportunity for light. Some of us are broken but pull ourselves up and some of us are broken and lost forever.

My writing road has been long and bumpy, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It runs parallel to the road of my life.

I noticed in your credits you have written both fiction and non-fiction – what has your “writer’s road” been like? When did you first know you were a writer?

I’ve known I wanted to be a writer since I was a child. As a teenager I wrote stories, but I didn’t really believe that writing creatively was a possibility for me until I was an undergraduate and met the woman who would be my first writing mentor. I approached her about writing an senior honors project and she asked me, “Have you ever thought of writing a novel?” I had thought of it but had never dared say it out loud. That day, though, I said yes. As such, we spent my senior year working on my first (unpublished) novel. We met once a week, when I would turn in the ten pages I’d written since I last saw her and she would go over her feedback from the previous week’s pages. One of the many valuable things I learned from her was how to give and receive feedback. It need not be a battle. It’s all about opening yourself up to taking it or leaving it.

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