In the Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Melissa Hite
1. Tell us about your poem, “Landmannalaugar,” in Volume 21. How did it come to be?
When I was in college, I spent a week in Iceland as part of a study abroad program through my conservative Christian university. Our guides took us to this beautiful, remote hot spring up in the mountains—Landmannalaugar—and when we got there, the spring was filled with naked people, most of them elderly. We, of course, were not going to be naked in the hot spring. We were required to bring one-piece (not two-piece) swimsuits. But something about these peoples’ nudity struck me as so beautiful and pure, Edenic. I was jealous of their freedom to just exist in their bodies without shame.
2. What excites you as a writer? What turns you off, makes you turn away or stop reading a piece of writing?
In my (very limited) experience, life is so much weirder than I ever expect it to be. Emotions and situations are so much more complicated than most media has prepared me for. So when something captures an experience or a feeling that I’ve had, in all its bizarre complexity, I love that. It’s validating for me. And it takes so much skill to do well. In the same vein, if something rings false, it’s going to lose me (I can usually tell when a female character has been written by a man—I think most women can).
3. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work? Do–or have–you had any mentors in your writing life?
As a young writer, I’m very much still working on finding my own voice… so I find that my work often mimics whoever I’ve been reading most recently. I love Flannery O’Connor, John Steinbeck, Ann Patchett, Mary Oliver. I’m forever indebted to my high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Jacobson, who showed me that poetry didn’t have to be lame, and Dr. Engel, who taught my Writing Fiction class.
4. Do you practice any other art forms? If so, do these influence your writing and/or creative process?
I’ve fallen in love with cooking over the last few months. For the longest time, I told myself I wasn’t a good cook—mainly because I’d never really tried. Discovering that I can cook has been a huge confidence builder. There’s something really fulfilling about making something beautiful that’s also literally sustaining, to me or to people I’m sharing with. I think any kind of creative endeavor like that helps keep your artistic juices flowing even if you’re having a fallow period with your primary art. I’m not always writing, but I’m always doing something to keep that muscle working.
5. What does your creative process look like? How does the environment you are in shape your work or where do you like to write?
Most times, it starts with an uncomfortably long period where I’m just staring at a blank screen, and I’m drained of every creative thought I’ve ever had, and I forget how to write sentences. But I’m told that’s fairly normal. If I can find even one sentence, that can usually open the floodgates. I’ve had to learn to just write a first draft without asking myself if it’s good or not, because if I wonder about that too much, I won’t write anything.
I find I need to move around a lot when I write, especially if I’m hitting a wall. I’ll bounce around from my dining room table to the coffee shop to the library and back. I just need a change of scenery every so often.
Melissa Hite is a writer living in Little Rock, AR. Her work has appeared in Equinox: Poetry and Prose, Relief: A Journal of Faith and Art, and SchoolCEO, among others. You can follow her work at her website https://www.melissakhite.com/.