10 Questions for Rachel Stone
- By Edward Clifford
Our ambulance pulls up to the white bungalow in Three Oaks, Michigan. The 911 caller, Tim Harris, is waiting for us outside his house. He circles his porch like a hound. I can see him from the back window, his hands stuffed into his blue slicker. Red Lights flash on and off his aluminum gutters. The other EMTs, Hector Téodora, Robbie, and Jae, unbuckle their seatblets, Téodora from the front seat. Téodora cracks the door to the back section and we jump out.
—from "Lights and Sirens," Volume 64, Issue 3 (Summer 2023)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
I was trying to write a collection of short stories for my college senior thesis. I’d had a hard time coming up with ideas, and had a lot of dread about the process. I signed up for a “bootcamp” during my winter break, which just meant meeting every day in a dark room with other seniors and trying to make progress on our theses, which felt like the most important thing at the time. Everyone was working so hard and I wasn’t making any progress, so I tried to make myself feel better by reading a collection by Edith Pearlman and writing a story with a similar vibe, then became ashamed of myself for not finishing the story I was supposed to be working on, so I started hiding from the bootcamp and worked on the Edith Pearlman story instead, which I wrote very quickly. Everything turned out fine and I graduated and no one cared about my thesis, but I did learn that I work best if I feel like I’m getting away with something, or am being a little bit disobedient.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
Solmaz Sharif, Monica Youn, Linda Gregg, Niina Pollari, Ama Codjoe. I am also always trying to be as good and thoughtful as the work of my friends, especially Hannah Srajer and Rachelle Hampton.
What other professions have you worked in?
I’m a fact checker and journalist. My last job was at a legal news publication, which changed my writing a lot. I had to write daily news stories based on court filings, and to fit the house style, my articles and headlines had to function in a very specific way to convey information—elucidating the most important development in a court case, being clear while still being factually accurate—and had to stay interesting while remaining under the required word count. I think this was better training for poetry than for feature writing, since the most challenging part of the job was compressing language and being judicious with words and their order.
What inspired you to write this piece?
I was staying in Washington D.C. with a friend, who took me to a party where neither of us knew anyone. I started talking to some people in line for the bathroom, one of whom worked as an EMT. I don’t remember too much about this conversation, since it happened in 2016, but I remember she was talking about people she called “friendly faces,” or people who called 911 when they were lonely. I talked to her for a while, and at some time before I wrote this piece I also read a short story by Lucia Berlin, who should be credited for a lot of this story’s structure and concept. I wrote this story as part of my college thesis, and revised it a lot in the year after I graduated.
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Honestly not really — I’ve been given the critique that a lot of my writing happens almost outside of a place, and would be stronger if it were rooted somewhere specific. I think this critique is true! So I’m trying to think about this more.
Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
I have a playlist titled “job” that I used when I had to lock in and read hundreds of court documents, which was mostly comprised of Ryuichi Sakamoto. I no longer have this job, but I still use the playlist.
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
Contemporary dance. There’s a certain part of writing that goes beyond conscious thought, but dance is always that. I miss entering someone’s choreographic vision and submitting to it, fully. You’re still thinking — you’re keeping time with music, and you’re conscious of where you are in space — but your mind is somewhere else, working completely differently than it ever does in real life, purely in the realm of motion and feeling. I’ve felt that poetry can be a good vehicle for unbridled emotion, in that if I am feeling something too strongly to talk about or think about in a normal way, I can find some order in it if I try and write through it. But dance lets you live in that emotion, and it permits the emotion to overwhelm you in a way that I think only movement can.
What are you working on currently?
I’m writing a collection of poems for my MFA thesis next spring, which I’ve been told are mostly about loneliness and alienation and longing and work. Some of these poems came from my time at the legal news publication, where I was using court documents as a source text, and seeing how the language and formal structures of of civil litigation could be deployed to address unresolved arguments and relationships.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Solmaz Sharif’s Customs, and just finished Italo Calvino’s The Baron in the Trees, on the recommendation of Matteo Heilbrun.
RACHEL STONE is from Chicago and currently lives in Brooklyn. She is completing an MFA at NYU’s Creative Writing Program, where she received a Goldwater Fellowship to teach and study poetry. Her writing has been published in The New Republic, BOMB, The Brooklyn Rail, and other publications.