Vending Machine Press Presents Interview with Christine Stoddard
1. What was your early life like? Where did you grow up?
I grew up as the eldest of three daughters in Arlington, Virginia, where the North meets the South. It’s an inner suburb of Washington, D.C., but doesn’t feel typically suburban in most parts. It’s very international and even has skyscrapers taller than the buildings across the river in Washington. My mother was born and raised in El Salvador and came to the U.S. as an adult. My father is a native New Yorker, who grew up in Westchester County and the Lower East Side of Manhattan. We spent a fair amount of time at our country house in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, but also traveled frequently. My childhood was not one of routine or even much tradition.
2. What made you want to write?
When romance with writing began as soon as I learned how to write. I had a speech impediment as a child and went through four years of speech therapy because of it. Shy about speaking, I needed an outlet to express myself. So I turned to the written word and visual art, two modes I often use in combination to this day.
3. What are your writing habits like? Are you always working on a story or poem?
As a professional writer, I write everyday for work, but I also carve out time for my creative writing. I’m always working on a story or poem. In fact, I normally have a few manuscripts going at a time, so I can never use writer’s block as an excuse. No matter the day, I’m able to open up a document and continue with one of my projects.
4. Can you discuss your literary influences, or at least name some writers whose work you greatly admire?
I greatly admire the work of Gwendolyn Brooks, Maya Angelou, Junot Díaz, Jamaica Kincaid, Gabriel García Márquez, Langston Hughes, Alfred Tennyson, Sylvia Plath, Beatrix Potter, and Nikki Giovanni, among others. I like to read a range of adult and children’s literature, as well as nonfiction.
5. How important is community amongst fellow writers, do you get along with other writers?
I think it’s important to have a creative community made up of different kinds of artists. I surround myself with friends and colleagues in a range of artistic disciplines because it gives me perspective. It also helps me synthesize my ideas and experiment with different forms of storytelling. I love books, but writing a book isn’t the only way to tell a story.
6. If you haven’t already, do you think you will ever write a novel?
I have! Now the question is getting it published. I’ve had some of my poetry and fiction collections published, so getting one of my novels published is my next goal. I also hope to publish at least one collection of essays.
7. Do you feel a sense of home? Is there a place like that to you?
My home is wherever my husband is. He and I are high school sweethearts, so we have a very strong bond and sense of understanding that goes back more than a decade—and I’m only 28! As long as I’m with him, I feel at peace. It helps that he also is a writer and artist, so we connect creatively, as well.
8. Do you have any writing rituals or superstitions, before you start to write?
I don’t have a particular ritual, just a preference of working in comfortable places with a good cup of coffee. That being said, I write everywhere. I bring my trusty laptop in the car, on the bus, on the subway, and even outdoors. My favorite purses are ones that are large enough to carry my MacBook Air. I do have a desktop computer, too, but I generally use that for photo and video editing when I’m working on multimedia projects. I don’t usually do straight writing on it.
9. Does writing energize or exhaust you?
It energizes me! Even when I write something difficult, I always feel a sense of relief afterwards. Getting the words out is invigorating, no matter what the words are. Not everything I write will end up being for others, but that’s not the point. Writing helps me make sense of my ideas and my life.
10. Are you a science fiction fan? If so what attracts you to the genre?
Not particularly. I read more of it as a child.
11. Do you think literature can help readers make sense of their lives?
Definitely. It puts you in the minds of other people. Even if the characters are fictional, they’re still human and have human tendencies. Understanding human nature is key to navigating life.
12. How autobiographical are your stories/poems?
Some are quite autobiographical, others not at all. It really depends.
13. I would be remiss if I did not ask: What are your favourite films and TV shows?
I love TV and film! Cinema was one of my majors in college, so I’ve watched all kinds of moving images, both narrative and experimental. Some days I’d watch French films like Les Enfants du Paradis and Amélie. Other days, I’d watch the works of Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage, and Stacey Steers. Like many film students, I loved (and still love) the works of Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch. I still watch a wide range of film and TV shows and have definitely gotten sucked into Netflix originals. Lately, I’ve really liked The Get Down, Orange is the New Black, and To the Bone. I’ve watched just about every Netflix comedy special, too. Then, of course, I will rewatch childhood favorites from time to time. I’ll never stop loving Labyrinth (RIP, David Bowie), The Nightmare Before Christmas, or any of the ’90s Christina Ricci and Winona Ryder movies.
14. Are you political? What do you think of the current political climate?
Yes. I would say that I’m more socially minded than strictly political, but politics inevitably influence society and social issues. I care deeply about social justice and often create work that touches on social justice topics, particularly immigration, women’s rights, and public education. Because of this, the Trump administration horrifies, sickens, and infuriates me. I struggle not to get mad every single day.
15. How do hope your stories/poems will affect people?
For every story or poem, I hope for something a little different. Some of them I want to inspire a sense of wonder. I want others to make people think deeply or simply laugh. No matter what, I do want my stories and poems to affect people somehow. I want to stir hearts, minds, and souls.
Christine Stoddard is a Salvadoran-Scottish-American writer and artist who lives in Brooklyn. She is the founding editor of Quail Bell Magazine, an art and culture magazine. Stoddard also is the author of Mi Abuela, Queen of Nightmares (Semiperfect Press), Naomi and the Reckoning (Black Magic Media), Jaguar in the Cotton Field (Another New Calligraphy), Hispanic & Latino Heritage in Virginia (The History Press), Ova (Dancing Girl Press), Chica/Mujer (Locofo Press), Lavinia Moves to New York (Underground Voices), Harlem Mestiza (Maverick Duck Press), The Eating Game (Scars Publications), and two miniature books from the Poems-For-All series. Her work has appeared in anthologies by Candlewick Press, Civil Coping Mechanisms, ELJ Publications, and other publishers, as well.