INTERVIEW WITH MIALISE CARNEY
Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: The form of the piece as an annotated bibliography is very fun and playful. How did you decide what books to include? Were there books that almost made it in but didn’t?
Mialise Carney: My goal with the form of this essay was to try to include every letter of the alphabet with books I had actually read as a child. Luckily, I still had a lot of those books at the time I wrote this in a small bookshelf alphabetized by author, which is where I got the idea from. For some of the letters, I only had one book so I had to make it work, but for others with multiples (like “A”) I tried to choose one that either related to the theme or I had a significant memory of. For example, for “F” I only had one book and because the title didn’t relate to the theme and I didn’t have a significant memory of, I took a line from the book that related to water so that I could write about my experience on a swim team. While most of the books brought up memories I could make relate to my ideas, some I had to get a little more creative with. There were a few books that didn’t make the cut. I tried to include: Made You Up by Francesca Zappia, The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, and The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. The goal had been to try to include every letter of the alphabet, but I eventually decided to cut these last few ones because they weren’t serving the piece that well. I felt like I had made my point and didn’t need to continue filling space.
RR: We love how the title “Shelved” suggests books, but also memories filed away. How did you arrive at the title, and what do you see as its significance?
MC: When I was writing this, I was combing through two different bookshelves and the physicality of shelving and unshelving books brought this title to mind. I like how, despite being so simple, this title can be interpreted in multiple ways. The significance for me was the double meaning of physically shelving books, but also a nod to the phrase “put on a shelf,” which means something or someone being unwanted, which relates to the ideas in this essay about how I felt put on a shelf, unwanted, or unliked by the people I knew growing up homeschooled.
RR: You provide very clear imagery in your anecdotes for each scene, such as in the conversation between you and your friend when he didn’t return your copy of 1984, or conversations had between you and your friends from public school. How did you go about recalling and replicating those memories?
MC: I try to write scenes that are both representative of what I visualize or remember but also add layers of meaning. For example, in the section titled 1984 that you pointed out, I tried to keep the scene tight, clipped, and vague, much like the actual friendship I had with that person. The dialogue scene is only two or three sentences long, even though my memory of that day is a lot longer, but I chose to cut the scene close to add meaning to the theme of repetitive, vague, short lasting friendships I had throughout my childhood. I’ve found that in writing nonfiction that the most important part of writing scenes from memory is not how well I remember them, but how I use what I remember to create meaning.
RR: How has your experience working as an editor influenced your own writing?
MC: Working as an editor has greatly influenced my writing, both in motivating me to write and teaching me about audience reception and what craft elements make a piece of writing “work.” Being an editor has also exposed me to many different genres, themes, and ideas in writing that I might not have had otherwise, which has made me more willing to take risks in writing. I think the most influential part of working on an editorial team is the discussions among staff about why you want to include a piece or why you don’t want to, needing to analyze and discuss the craft and message behind the piece beyond just a first gut reaction. I’m grateful for my experiences working on editorial teams because it has taught me so much about writing craft and the publishing world.
RR: On your website you mention you enjoy stealing antique silverware from museums. We’re intrigued–what’s the story behind that?
MC: Ah, that’s a good question. When I first started writing, I wanted something weird to include in my bio before I had any publications, so I came up with that and I just haven’t got around to removing it from my website yet. The backstory is that my grandmother used to steal silverware from restaurants as a joke because it really upset my mother to have mismatched silverware in the drawer. My family got a little competitive, and I imagined that the ultimate steal would be silverware from a museum—it would be so easy to steal an antique spoon from one of the tables, they’re barely clamped down. Although I haven’t successfully stolen silverware from a museum (yet), I have stolen a teaspoon from Oxford University and a giant ladle from an Italian restaurant in my hometown, which is arguably one of my greatest accomplishments.
Mialise Carney’s work in Issue 8.1: