Melanie J. Cordova on Style

Melanie J. Cordova on Style

 

Interviewed by Matt Staley

Date of Interview: April 14, 2014

 

Melanie J. Cordova is currently a PhD student in Creative Writing Fiction at Binghamton University. She has stories out or forthcoming with Whitefish ReviewThe Oklahoma ReviewThe Santa Fe Writers ProjectYamassee, and various others. Melanie also serves as Editor-in-Chief to Harpur Palate and as Coordinator of Writing By Degrees 2014. Cordova’s short story “They Are Waiting” appears in Red Savina Review’s current issue.

INTERVIEWER

 What compels you to write?

MELANIE J. CORDOVA

I think what compels me to write are these images that get locked in my brain that I feel need some sort of expression. I’ll write them down and come back to them later, wondering what circumstances created those images and where they may fall in the course of a character’s life. A story I wrote a few years ago, picked up by Inwood Indiana Press, started with the image of a child looking out the window at a ram sitting placidly in a field, completely centered in the window frame. I liked the idea that the ram had a bigger story than the child. I also have a story in Whitefish Review that starts with the image of a woman eating a flower, as if it were the most perfectly natural thing to have for dinner.

INTERVIEWER

Your writing style seems to sway a bit towards the darker side, which is awesome by the way.  Can you give us a bit of insight as to why you prefer darker themes?

 MELANIE J. CORDOVA

I didn’t realize this was the case until recently! I’m not sure if I prefer darker themes or if this has naturally emerged from the everyday reality I’m attempting to portray. I think it comes from studying a lot of magical realist texts – one author claims that magic palpitates behind reality, so I guess what has come to the fore in my own writing is I can’t imagine that such palpitating magic as any sort of positive force. Why would it be there otherwise?

INTERVIEWER

After reading “They Are Waiting” in RSR 2.1, I decided to use only my shower. I’ve turned my bathtub into a flowerpot.  What was your inspiration for this short story?

 MELANIE J. CORDOVA

It started with an image, actually, like I stated above. Before any other part of the story had formed, I just saw this large man unable to get into his car because someone else had parked too close to it.  I already knew I wanted to highlight the hot springs in Montezuma, New Mexico, so I found a way to weave them together. As I revised the story, the image man and the car faded a bit into the background and no longer functioned as a focal point in “They Are Waiting.” Sorry about your bathtub! I’m sure the flowers appreciate it, though.

 INTERVIEWER

Oftentimes writers get tunnel vision with a piece they are working on, and it can make glaring editorial issues difficult to see.  As Editor-in-Chief of Harpur Palate, do you find it more or less difficult to edit your own work?  Why?

 MELANIE J. CORDOVA

It was actually more helpful to my own writing when I was a fiction editor with Harpur Palate, because I read so many submissions every day that I got a better sense of what got under my skin—both positively and negatively—and my work became more aware of those things. Cover letters, for example: I never imagined they could be so distracting. And, as cliché as it sounds, those first few pages are so key to grabbing an editor’s attention. As Editor in Chief, however, I’ve been lucky to be able to get an overall sense of Harpur Palate and our contributors—the types of work we’re more likely to accept and which just don’t fit with our aesthetic. In terms of my own writing, it hasn’t altered the way I write or revise, but more which journals I choose to send which pieces to. I think that’s been a huge deal for me, trying to understand the scope of a journal I’d like to submit to, because I see submitters to Harpur Palate both successfully and unsuccessfully navigate that same aesthetic space.

 INTERVIEWER

If you could convey only one message to new writers, what would it be?

 MELANIE J. CORDOVA

My one message to new writers would be to grow a thick skin. I still consider myself a new writer, and while rejection is always going to be difficult, I know that journals and magazines and publishers aren’t maliciously rejecting my work; it’s probably just as they say – not right for them at that time. So growing a thick skin is the number one thing I’d recommend.

 INTERVIEWER

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

 MELANIE J. CORDOVA

That’s a big question to ask a graduate student in the humanities. Who knows? Hopefully teaching creative writing to undergraduates. Definitely writing, though, always writing.

 INTERVIEWER

What other writing projects are you dabbling in now, and what can we expect to see from you in the near future?

 MELANIE J. CORDOVA

Right now I’m in the middle of revising a story that takes place near Pojoaque, New Mexico. It’s about a landlord whose tenant’s dog unearths part of a dead body. And I just started writing a story about a caretaker at the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe. The Santa Fe Writers Project has also been so kind as to let me review some books for them, so that’s a possibility in the coming weeks, and I’ll be back reviewing books for IndieReader soon as well. Meanwhile, everyone should say hello to me via submissions to Harpur Palate!

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