In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Kasey Payette
1. Tell us about your CNF piece, “Preserves,” in Volume 21. How did it come to be?
Structurally, “Preserves” tells the true story of my experience learning to preserve food through canning. That straightforward narrative arc serves as a container to hold less straightforward elements of the essay: instinct, desire, ripeness, abundance, and apocalyptic fear.
I write fiction most of the time. The process of writing an essay is very different than writing a short story, though the craft elements can be similar. For me, essay writing is a little more mystical. This is how I write an essay: I have an experience, usually something pretty humdrum, but outside my usual routine. I find myself deeply affected by the experience, with the sense that I’ve been transformed in some unnamable way. But then, I want to name it. I want to find out exactly why the experience was so meaningful, so I start to write. I follow unexpected threads and rabbit holes and I invite my subconscious to come out of hiding. I make connections between the experience and what’s going on in the world at large. I make connections to my own history. Soon I have a sort of road map. It’s like a treasure hunt, and the treasure is epiphany. With enough revision, I can pass that sense of epiphany along to readers.
2. What excites you as a writer? What turns you off, makes you turn away or stop reading a piece of writing?
Lately, I am excited by research. I love to read books that show deep technical knowledge, but present the details elegantly, in a way that transmits emotion. Some books that do this beautifully are Weike Wang’s Chemistry and Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See. I have novels on the brain because I’m currently working on a novel! I’m drawn to work that feels lush and generous. Sometimes I get bored when I read something that feels overly cold or withholding.
3. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
I started reading early, at four-years-old. I had the privilege of growing up with parents who read to me all the time, so I always saw books as a core part of life. In second grade, while I was processing the loss of my paternal grandmother, I wrote a story called “My Dead Grandma” which was very well-received by my teacher and classmates. I saw that I could use language to make something sad and hilarious at the same time.
4. What are some themes/topics that are important to your writing?
I’ve noticed that themes of control and loss of control have been cropping up frequently in my work. I’m interested in the ways people influence and manipulate each other. I’ve become obsessed with group dynamics and the formation of subcultures.
I’m very interested in the body. I’m very interested in the human animal. Contemporary living can be such a disembodied experience, and I think literature and art can be an antidote to this. In my writing, I try to return to the primacy of the corporeal.
5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
I am currently working on my first novel, which grew from a short story I worked on for years. The short story took forever to finish because I was always struggling to rein it in. There were more trails I wanted to follow with the characters than I could do with the short form.
I’m grateful to have received funding from the Minnesota State Arts Board this year to support me in developing this novel. I’m a full-time marketing and communications professional, so I’m always battling to carve out time, and, perhaps more importantly, headspace, for my writing. The vote of confidence and financial support this grant provides is a huge boost. I’m really amped up and focused on the novel right now, but I start every day writing in my notebook about whatever I want. On the pages of my notebook, ideas for future stories and essays are definitely percolating.
Kasey is a writer based in Saint Paul, Minnesota. She was the recipient of a 2015-2016 Loft Mentor Series Award in fiction, and her stories and essays have appeared in CALYX Journal, Gulf Coast, Juked, Revolver, and elsewhere.