Behind the Words: Chella Courington

Posted by on Sep 9, 2018 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Behind the Words: Chella Courington

Chella Courington was published twice in Spry Literary Journal, and is now a member of our general reader pool for issue 11. Here she talks with fellow reader Allie Marini on both pieces of flash that we’ve published.

Allie Marini: Both The Eleven O’Clock News and The Long Walk have a surreal, almost dreamlike quality to them. You manage to pack a lot of emotion, tension, and longing into a small amount of words—every word is deliberate & serves a purpose, yet still manages to retain a poetic sensibility, as well—they’re almost prose-poems, but structurally meet the criteria for micro/flash fiction. What do you call your work? How did these stories get their start? How long did it take you to know that they were “done”? (What does done mean to you, as a writer?)

Chella Courington: I feel as if these works are poetic flashes. I’m attracted to both prose poetry and flash fiction and often think the two overlap. “The Eleven O’Clock News” emerged from watching too many news clips of our war in Afghanistan. Since Vietnam, I’ve been an observer of deadly and often senseless conflict like a kid playing a video game. Unfortunately, we sometimes become numb to war as if it were white noise lulling us to sleep. “The Long Walk” appeared in my memories of being frightened of clowns on stilts when I was a kid.  My folks loved the circus and assumed I would, always thinking they were treating me to a fantastic experience. For me the circus was strange and bizarre. Not only did the clowns freak me but also the high wire and trapeze acts. That fear sparked the fear of being abandoned. About knowing when the pieces are done, I continue to play with them until they feel finished. But I really don’t feel anything is ever complete. I keep revising even after they’re published. 

How big are your “Ideas/In-Progress” folders? How many notes or stubs of ideas do you think will eventually turn into finished work? How long (on average) does it take for an idea stub/note to become a working draft? (Follow-up: tell us about either the fastest or the longest one—or both!)

I jot down words, images, and phrases in my four by five-inch notebook or on my phone. When I write, I frequently draw on my stash for a prompt. Not sure how many of these turn into a finished product. Maybe 60-70%. My first draft is a focused freewrite that I do quickly, letting my fingers take me wherever they want. Often new ideas emerge in this process. When the writing stops, I lay it aside and return to it in a few hours or the next day, depending on available time. That first response is the working draft. Shaping it into a work that satisfies me is a longer, more deliberate process.

How many times was this piece declined before it found a home at Spry? Tell us about how you deal with discouragement, or how you celebrate your successes.

I think Spry was the first place I sent “The Eleven O’Clock News,” but “The Long Walk” was declined three times before Spry. When I have something “rejected,” I quickly send it out again. I don’t start rethinking a piece until five rejections. Acceptances always make my day and spur me to write something new.

How has your writing changed since you published this piece? Where can a reader find some of your newer work?

In 2014 I started a flash novella that I published in 2015. This work was more realistic, based in part on my life. So for that period my writing tended to be more down-to-earth, reflected in a couple of the following pieces. While I’ve returned to works of a surreal bent, I swing between surrealism and realism. “The Gift of Pomace” “Nothing Belongs to Me” < “Twenty-Year Game“. 

What is the last book you read that disappointed you (or that you hated)? What made it frustrating to read, from either a reader POV or from the perspective of a writer examining craft?

I’m fairly careful about which books I choose to read, reading reviews and talking to other writers I admire about what they’re reading. I can’t think of a recently frustrating book. I can think of many good books: Fierce Attachments, Vivian Gornick: Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin; Transit, Rachel Cusk; call me by your name, Andre Aciman; Lighthead, Terrance Hayes; Magic City, Yusef Komunyakaa; and slight faith, Risa Denenberg.

Who is your writing community, and how/where did you find them?

Largely, my partner who is a writer. Also, I exchange pieces on occasion with scattered friends who are writers.

Dorothy Parker once famously said, “I hate writing, but I love having written.” Do you like writing, or do you prefer having written?

I like the process of writing as well as the process of revision. Mentioned earlier, I begin with freewrites and often have a rough working draft after the first write. I keep honing the work until it feels ready. Revision is perhaps as much fun as creating because I love playing with individual words, looking for just the right one.    

What is your writer’s fuel (or what are your writer’s vices?)

Other demands like grading a stack of student essays and any kind of cleaning trigger my desire to write. Writing is always a guilty pleasure just as reading was when a kid. I’d hide in the closet with a flashlight until I finished the book. Similar to my writing now after midnight when the house is dark and all I hear is the cat’s purring.

Whose voice do you want to lift up—who’s an unsung writer that you want Spry readers to go find right now?

Ted Chiles. A fiction writer whose flash is smart and subtle. Google him.

What question do you wish I’d asked, & what’s your answer to it?

Which writers have influenced you and why? Virginia Woolf for her poetic prose, advocacy for women writers, and her stream of consciousness. Lucille Clifton for writing about women and issues of race in poetry that is clear and metaphoric. Jamaica Kincaid for telling a short short story in one sentence of poetic prose called “Girl.” James Dickey for his first book of poetry and seeming comfortable in his Southern voice (to name a few of many influences).

Allie Marini is a cross-genre writer holding degrees from both Antioch University of Los Angeles & New College of Florida. She was a 2018 Shitty Women in Literature nominee, and has been a finalist for Best of the Net and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her masthead credits include Lunch Ticket, Spry Literary Journal & Mojave River Review. She has published a number of chapbooks, including Pictures from the Center of The Universe (Paper Nautilus, winner of the Vella Prize) and Southern Cryptozoology: A Field Guide to Beasts of the Southern Wild (Hyacinth Girl Press, finalist for the SFPA’s Elgin Award) In addition to her work on the page, Allie was a member of Oakland’s 2017 National Slam Team. A native Floridian now freezing to death in the Bay Area, Allie writes poetry, fiction, and essays. Find her online.