In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Erika Wurth
1. Tell us about your fiction piece “Jim” in Volume 22. How did it come to be?
I had a short story collection that was evolving for years and finally it evolved into a cesspool of a novel. I knew it was, and so I ended up revising it, but that’s one of the pieces that’s survived into the final manuscript, though there are those who think it incongruent with the rest.
2. What excites you as a writer? What turns you off, makes you turn away or stop reading a piece of writing?
I’m pretty open as to form, but I want to see that somebody is doing it for a reason. In other words, a bunch of exciting action doesn’t equal narrative tension. And a bunch of big words doesn’t equal beautiful language.
3. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
You know people ask this a lot and it’s a good question, but honestly I don’t really have an answer beyond that I didn’t know anybody who was a writer, and I wanted to be one. My dad did read The Martian Chronicles and Louis L’Amour, however, and I think this sharpened my taste for something different early on.
4. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?
Honestly though it can be a mess. I’m extremely excited by Native American fiction in the last few years. Finally there is a plethora, all writing different genres. Rebecca Roanhorse is writing fantasy. Kelli Jo Ford has a collection of short stories coming out. Brandon Hobson was shortlisted for the National Book Awards, and of course there’s Tommy Orange, the last three of these writing what I call realism to avoid the snottiness of literary fiction. Then there’s Daniel H. Wilson who is writing science fiction, Natanya Ann Pulley has a collection coming out that’s fairly experimental, and David Heska Wanbli Weiden has a thriller coming out soon.
5. Do you practice any other art forms? If so, how do these influence your writing and/or creative process?
If poetry counts as another art form, then yes, though I don’t write poetry anymore. I thought it had died, but it’s actually reincarnated itself into some of the more experimental pieces that I write, as I try to borrow a bit from poetic form.
6. What craft element challenges you the most in your writing? How do you approach it? What is your quirk as a writer?
Ultimately I think, like a lot of people who think of themselves as literary writers, I struggled with structure. A lot of folks think it shouldn’t matter, but I really do. I think that experimental pieces are great and they’re great for short pieces, especially ones attempting to describe an inner landscape. But for my money, I like a longer piece to be more traditionally narrative, with dialogue and action and some sort of structure. I had to learn the hard way to ignore my peers and chart that stuff out before I started the novel.
7. How does the current political climate influence your art or creative process?
I don’t think it really influences my work directly. Of course being American Indian, I’m always keenly aware, pre-Trump, of how American politics affects our communities, from urban to reservation. I am noticing that more Native writers are being paid attention to, so I guess that’s some small silver lining. It shouldn’t have taken that much.
Erika T. Wurth’s publications include two novels, Crazy Horse’s Girlfriend and You Who Enter Here; two collections of poetry; and a collection of short stories, Buckskin Cocaine. A writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, she teaches creative writing at Western Illinois University and has been a guest writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts. She is Apache/Chickasaw/Cherokee and was raised outside of Denver. You can find more of her work at her website here.