Behind the Words: Emily Densten

Posted by on May 9, 2014 in Uncategorized | 1 comment

Emily DenstenWhen “Fine” was first published, Allie, a reader for the issue, commented that “the writing is deceptively simple–and I think that sometimes, like a shy person, that trait can be misinterpreted. Make no mistake, this piece is elegantly constructed, and straight-forward and honest in its intentions. But it doesn’t yell, doesn’t raise its voice; it simply tells its truth and trusts that the reader will take pause and really listen.” It’s impossible to introduce this piece without reflecting on Allie’s spot-on comment. We are so fortunate to have Emily on Spry’s staff for issue #5, and I’m excited to be the person lucky enough to interview her.


Erin: In “Fine,” a fiction piece about a man abandoned by his adult-child and the disintegration of his marriage, the narrator jumps back and forth between memory and present time. Is this how the story first came to you, or did you weave the past and the present sections into the revision process?

Emily: The first draft of “Fine” was written for a fiction class when I was still in school. Originally, the only flashback I had in the story was the one on the beach where Jane disappears, and then turns up with a handful of seashells. A lot of the critiques I got were that too much weight was put on the metaphor of those shells, and so I added in the additional scenes to show Jane’s independence throughout her life.


I’d love to know more about how this story originated. Which came first, the story or the characters?

Both, in a way. I had it in my head that I wanted to write a first person narrative where the narrator was not the protagonist. I’m not usually one to do exercises and prewrites and things like that, but again, this was originally written while I was in school so the narrator first came up in some exercise I had to do for class. Originally, Jane was a lot less developed than she ended up in the final draft, thanks largely, I believe, to the additional flashbacks. At the same time, the story ended up being a lot more about the narrator than I ever initially expected. I guess, really, the characters came first with more of a technique I wanted to try, and then the story developed out of that.


You recently graduated from Rowan University with a BA in Writing. How did your schooling influence your writing? How has going from student to writer changed your writing?

When I originally graduated high school my plan was to go to school for social work, but after less than two years at my county college I realized that was not right for me, so when I transferred to Rowan I switched to the Writing Arts major, with the intention of hopefully getting into some form of copyediting and absolutely zero intention of ever attempting to have any work published. I don’t think formal schooling is necessary, but my two and a half years were really influential for me. I learned a lot about writing outside of just the grammar rules I learned in middle and high school. I was also fortunate enough to participate in a lot of workshop based classes, which showed me how much I love being able to read other people’s work. Leaving school, for me, has meant writing a lot of stuff that never sees the light of day. But, it has also shown me that this is something I want to continue to pursue. I’m not writing to pass a class. I’m writing because I want to.


You’ve just joined the Spry family as a general reader for Issue #5. How has the transition between contributor/writer to staff reader/writer been for you. Do you feel reading the work

I have always been more of a reader than a writer, so the transition has been great for me. I mean, I enjoy writing, and it’s important to me, but I never think of myself as a Writer. It’s interesting to see where the staff agrees and differs on different pieces, and to be able to contribute in the conversation about the piece. I’ve been published a few times, but I haven’t been on this side of things outside of school before. As I mentioned above, this is an aspect I enjoyed in school, so it’s nice to be back in this environment again.


Tell me about your writing habits. What are you currently working on?

This is the part where I admit that I am not a disciplined writer who sits down at her desk and writes at least a page a day. I could blame it on my schedule never being the same two weeks in a row, but that would be misplaced. I try to write as much as I can, but that turns into a notebook full of ideas and another notebook only half full of drafts. My best friend and I try to do little two person workshops every couple of months or so, which forces both of us to keep ourselves in the game. I have a couple of poems that I just finished first drafts of that I plan to send to her in a couple of weeks. At this point, you probably won’t be shocked to hear that I’m a lot more disciplined of an editor than a writer. I usually write my first draft longhand (I don’t know when or why or how I picked this up), and then do minor edits while typing it up. I then print up that draft and go to town on it revising and editing. Then, those edits get typed up, and this is usually the point where I get a second set of eyes on the piece if possible.


Who or what are you currently reading? Are there any poets, authors, or works you’d recommend to our readership?

Oh, boy. In the past year and a half or so, I have become completely, 100%, head-over-heels obsessed with Shirley Jackson. It started with me picking up The Haunting of Hill House (which is just about the perfect novel in my opinion) because I wanted something spooky to read around Halloween, and has landed at me buying one of her books every time I pick up something new. Her writing is gorgeous, and clever. Her characters are alive, and strange. She can write every type of story from the truly frightening to domestic memoirs and it is all good. I could gush about her for literal hours. I’d recommend The Haunting or “The Tooth,” which is a short story from the same collection as the infamous “The Lottery.” Also, I am just about finished with Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. I read Swamplandia! last summer and fell in love. Each story in Vampires manages to pack the same emotional punch and exquisite language of that novel.


Erin A. Corriveau is an emotional archeologist who graduated from Fairfield University’s MFA program with a concentration in creative nonfiction. Her writing has been published in (em): A Review of Text and Image, Revolution House, Lunch Ticket, Paper Tape, Shoreline Literary Arts Magazine, The Fall River Spirit, and RedFez. She is the co-founder and editor of Spry Literary Journal. Her blog, Reinventing Erin, is her outlet for ruminating on the minutiae of everyday life.

1 Comment

  1. Emily, you could not possibly be more perfect. I want to be your BFF.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.