In the Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Danielle Decatur
Your wonderful fiction piece, “Lies on the Lips,” shows your main character Nell’s quiet transformation into confidence (and a little past that) with the help of a pair of marker-drawn lips. Where did this idea come from?
The idea of Nell came to me first. I wanted to write about someone who doesn’t always express herself, but has lots of thoughts and opinions! Then, I started to think about what would have to happen for Nell to find her voice?
I love how the relationships within this piece are fleshed out so well, and you do that with little backstory and instead focus on the character’s interactions. What’s your process when writing these complex relationships?
First, I try to really understand how the protagonist is influenced by the others in the story. Since it’s a short story, I have to make choices on who the reader gets to really know. For example, Nell’s dad has a role in this story but he’s passed. It isn’t important for the reader to know Nell’s dad, but they do need to know how his absence has influenced those still there. Someone told me every character thinks they are a main character and you have to write them as such. So I wanted to write Nell’s dad that way as if to say, he may not be there but he has left his mark.
Both this piece and Come What May (published in Midnight Breakfast) flirt with the edges of magic realism, and yet still remain planted in reality. Is that something that you consciously develop as you write?
This choice isn’t exactly intentional. My writing centers Black characters and even if they are in a situation that reflects reality I try to push beyond the expected. I never want my characters to be bound to a specific narrative and sometimes that means sprinkling a little magic in there.
You utilize the setting of Shaker Heights throughout your work. What draws you to write with that setting? How does place influence plot for you?
I grew up in Shaker Heights! Shaker Heights, as I knew it, was developed in the 60s as a planned community to support racial integration. This purposeful integration and planning is rife for interesting storytelling. For example, two-family homes in Shaker only have one front door to remove the stigma of someone living in a multi-family. Shaker is also very relatable as a midwestern Ohio town, but very unique in its history.
What literary works and authors inspire you or your writing?
I adore Toni Morrison. She created worlds of Black characters without the white gaze. I hope my work does something similar. I also love reading Britt Bennett, Jesmyn Ward, and Celeste Ng.
What are you writing now?
I am currently querying for my novel, searching for the right person to help me bring it to market. I’m also writing another short story that is a little different. It has a little bit of suspense, but that slight hand of magical realism too.
Danielle Decatur is a creative director and fiction writer. She graduated from the University of Virginia with a BA in English and literature and received an MFA from Bennington College. Her short stories have appeared in Northwest Review, Midnight Breakfast, and Silver Needle Press. She lives in New Jersey with her husband and two sons.