This interview is the first of our "Meet the Denizens" series, featuring the masthead of Dishsoap Quarterly. For Iris, Bianca, one of our editor-in-chiefs, conducted this interview live. Iris Yu is the executive manager and lead fiction editor.
Bianca: Let's start off with some basics about yourself, like where you're from, what your hobbies are, things like that.
Iris: I'm Iris. I'm from Ohio. When I'm not writing, I like to crochet. I'm learning to crochet. And then I also play piano and the trombone.
Bianca: Why do you enjoy writing and what inspired you to start doing so? Is there a particular emotion that it evokes? What about writing makes you want to do it?
Iris: In seventh grade, we had a creative writing club that I joined in seventh grade. It's an Ohio thing: a state wide competition. I joined that in seventh grade. That’s when I started taking writing more seriously. Now, for me, writing is mainly a form of catharsis.
Bianca: That's a really good answer. So... what do you prefer writing: poetry or fiction? Why do you like it?
Iris: I'm mainly a fiction writer, just because it feels more natural to me. I like being able to play around with dialogue. I feel like it's just a lot easier to incorporate aspects of humor in fiction than it is in poetry. Also, I feel like poetry, in general, is a little bit intimidating.
Bianca: Yeah, I get that. I had a lot of trouble starting [poetry]. Who are your favorite writers and how do you think they've influenced your writing?
Iris: Haruki Murakami. I feel like everyone knows him. The other one is Carmen Maria Machado, who I also feel like everyone knows. I haven't read their full books, but I really love their short stories. I love the way that they play with reality. In that vein, I also really like Kevin Wilson. I don't think he's as well known [as the others]. Last year, when I did a writing program, his work was included as one of our required readings. It was... really good. The way he described the reality was like our world, but tilted seven degrees, horizontally. Everything's just kind of slightly off.
Bianca: That's a very specific amount of degrees. I've never heard of him; he sounds really cool. Out of these writers or even outside of these writers, what specific works do you draw inspiration from? Is there anything you have read that really stood out to you and you find influences the way you write?
Iris: Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado was fantastic without being wildly unbelievable. I read it when I was in middle school when I was very bad at writing. Back then, whenever I tried to write something that was fantastical in any way, it would just be extremely bizarre. It wouldn't make any sense. I think once I read that, I started realizing, you know, the things you write actually like they can make sense, and you should strive for that.
Bianca: Yeah, I myself am really drawn to speculative fiction. Is there a specific piece out of that short story collection that really resonated with you? I'm just curious because I have my favorites.
Iris: I think one of my favorites is definitely Mothers. The ending of that one had me shaking. I was like, "Holy cow!" I also really loved the one where women were vanishing and fading out of existence.
Bianca: That's so interesting. I'll look it up later. That entire collection is actually incredible. Let’s move on to your writing process. How long do you typically spend on a project or fiction piece? What ideas do you find yourself constantly drawn to?
Iris: I think I write a lot about the intersection between friendship and more than that, because the line can be quite blurry. As to how much time I spend on something. it really depends on that project. Once, I wrote about 14 drafts of a piece before I felt like it was decent. But then sometimes, I only write two drafts. It really depends.
Bianca: Fourteen? How long did that take you?
Iris: A few months.
Bianca: A few months?
Iris: The plot changed dramatically from Draft One to the last draft. It never felt like it could actually happen.
Bianca: Oh, so that's what you're interested in: stories that are a bit bizarre but are still rooted in reality.
Bianca: Now we're going to shift away from that a little bit, although we'll come back to that later. Can you share some of your thoughts on the literary community? Have you created work in response to other artists? If so, what do you think the importance of this communication is?
Iris: I'm relatively new to the literary community because no one else in my school takes writing quite as seriously, so I never really knew that other high schoolers were actually submitting their work to places and making connections with one another. I had no clue. I think now that I have discovered it, it's very interesting because it's quite a small world. My fiction instructor for a writing program that I'm doing knows Carmen Maria Machado, who I think I mentioned to you before. I generally think of all these people as separate entities, so to think that they know each other is very interesting.
Bianca: Yeah. I definitely agree with that. How do you think editing and writing are correlated? What does it take, in your opinion, to be a good editor? And what do you specifically look for in a piece?
Iris: In a piece, I look for drive. Why is this happening? Is this just a bunch of pretty images? That's the kind of thing I used to write; it didn't have any purpose– it was just pretty words next to each other. I want to turn away from that. I think being a good editor means being an understanding editor. I think it means trying to put yourself in the original writer's shoes and seeing why they do these things, but at the same time seeing how it actually came off. Intent versus the impact.
Bianca: In the same vein, what are your favorite literary magazines?
Iris: I think my favorite literary journals include Adroit. It's very cool. I also really love the Jellyfish Review. All their stories are so short and compact and it's easy to say, “Oh, just just one more story before I actually do my homework.” But then that just keeps expanding into one more, one more, one more, one more– until it's like in an hour and I'm like, "Oh, oh no." I also really love Star 82 Review, which is kind of similar to Jellyfish. It has lots of great short fiction that are packed with meaning, despite their brevity.
Bianca: What are some of your favorite artistic experiences?
Iris: Last year, I attended the Sewanee Young Writers' Conference. It was very new to me. I never had that kind of experience with all these strangers who also liked to write. I think I made some really good friends there. I also learned a lot with the required readings and seeing a lot of other people's work. I think it really helped me grow as a writer. I'm only about halfway through the Iowa Young Writers’ Studio this year, but I'm having a really great experience so far. My instructor is super smart. She's super nice. My classmates are also very thoughtful.
Bianca: How are these connections that you're making with these people different from the normal connections you make with a person from your school or in your classes?
Iris: I think it’s impossible to fully separate the art from the artist. Everything you write has a piece of you in it and to show that to people and open yourself for feedback and critique... It's like baring a very vulnerable side of you. I think that's what makes it different. You wouldn't go up to a random person at your school and tell them all about one specific experience from when you were three years old that has consistently shaped your life. You would do that in your writing, and I think that's what makes these connections special.
Bianca: What challenges have you had to overcome in your time taking writing seriously?
Iris: I think one of the biggest things is self-esteem. My self-esteem is very pendulum-like; it swings back and forth. When I was when I was in middle school, I thought I was so amazing. I was so cocky about my writing. Then, I started getting into more writing spaces online or in person, like at Sewanee. My self-esteem plummeted a little after that before I started seeing it as an opportunity to grow rather than an opportunity to put myself down.
Bianca: What advice do you have to offer young writers that are just starting out in the literary world? What would you tell the past version of you or just, you know, any young writer?
Iris: I think the biggest thing is just to keep going. You know, I hear a lot of people say, “Oh, I'm not going to try to do this because I'm not good enough” or “I'm not going to put effort into writing because I'm just bad at it.” If you don't put that effort in, you're never going to get better, so don't let your insecurity or fear hold you back.