February 18, 2010
An Interview with Rhea DeRose-Weiss by Amy Glasenapp, The SFSU Review Fiction Editor
Amy Glasenapp, fiction editor of Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review 16.1 and 16.2, recently sat down with Rhea DeRose-Weiss to discuss her story from issue 16.1, "The Neon Artist," and get some insight about Derose-Weiss' craft practices.
14H: Where are you from originally?
Rhea DeRose-Weiss: I grew up in Durham, North Carolina. I moved there when I was six, from Arizona, and lived there all through high school and college. I attended UNC Greensboro, Warren Wilson College, and UNC Asheville.
14H: Is this your first time in print?
RDW: I’ve been published before in local magazines and online. The Blotter (NC), Slave (a hardcore punk magazine created by a friend), and online at Carve.
14H: How did you hear about Fourteen Hills?
RDW: Fourteen Hills... I’ve been aware of it for a while, not sure how. Maybe I heard about it when I was in grad school and we were talking about where to publish our work. I studied creative writing at New College.
14H: What does it look like where you write? What can and can’t you tolerate in that space?
RDW: Right now, I write in my bedroom, which is about the size of a shoebox. I’m not a writer who has a routine; I don’t do the things we’re told we need to do—like write every day, have a routine—but I’d like to develop that. I’m usually just sitting at my tiny desk in front of my laptop, sometimes with music, sometimes not.
14H: What do you do for a living?
RDW: I teach at the college level—composition and a short fiction class. I feel I’ve learned more from teaching that class about the basic elements of the short story than I did in studying it as an undergrad or in graduate school. Just saying over and over again that you need a narrative arc and the possibility of change—that reinforces a lot of that traditional stuff you might not think about otherwise. Teaching made me realize I need to listen to that advice, think about it, and go back to my own work and try to incorporate those fundamentals more.
14H: Do you research first or do you just sit down and write, filling in information gaps later?
RDW: Well, I normally just sit down and write. I don’t usually write stories like "The Neon Artist," where I’ve incorporated history from past eras, and I was actually trying to remember how that actually happened. I don’t remember what came first. I think the idea for "The Neon Artist" came to me and then I went to the library to do some research. I wrote the first version of the story several years ago in grad school. Then I went back to it and revised it and sent it out.
14H: How long did it take you to finish The Neon Artist?
RDW: I started it in 2006 and kept coming back to it. I finished the story in 2009.
14H: Have you ever attempted a longer work, or do you primarily write short stories?
RDW: I primarily write short stories. I have attempted to write longer things but haven’t finished anything. There’s an idea I’m kicking around for a longer piece. It’s just an idea at this point.
14H: Is writing something you’d like to do professionally?
RDW: At this point, writing fiction is almost dangerously close to being a hobby, but I’d like it to be more of an elemental part of my life, because it’s pretty important to me. A lot of who I am is wrapped up with the idea of being a writer. I’m in my second year of teaching and still just figuring it out. My goal would be to get that balance between teaching and maintaining the regular practice of writing. I would like to put out a collection of stories.
14H: Were you inspired by any particular artists or artistic movements while you were writing "The Neon Artist?"
RDW: Inspiration? It’s hard to remember, because it’s been a few years. Some inspiration came from my own life and being in school for writing. I remember feeling like writing is a dying art form. Also feeling like the things that make me a writer are also the things that alienate me from the rest of the world. It’s sort of a catch-22, trying to communicate with an audience while distancing myself from people.
14H: Who were you reading when you wrote this story?
RDW: That’s also hard for me to remember, but I was probably reading Amy Hempel. I’m always inspired by her, so this story was inspired by her style a little bit. Also—and I recommend this to my students—Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson. It is very poetic but spare, and it has this almost magical realist element to it, sort of absurd and surreal. It’s very experimental, so it might not be the best thing for beginning writers, because it won’t really help them to understand the traditional story structure.
14H: What other works do you recommend your students read?
RDW: Raymond Carver is such a seminal short story writer, and in his writings are good examples of subtle character changes. I always have my students read "Cathedral."
14H: If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be?
RDW: I would be in Brooklyn. My boyfriend lives there. I’m trying to bring him here, actually. He’s a writer, too.
14H: Is that ever a problem?
RDW: Not really. The distance is a problem.
Rhea Derose-Weiss grew up in North Carolina but does not have a southern accent. She moved to San Francisco in 2004 to complete a Master's in Creative Writing from a school that no longer exists. She now teaches at The Academy of Art University, where she attempts to instill in students the importance of narrative arc and the danger of the comma splice. "The Neon Artist" is the title story of a book-length collection in progress. You can read "The Neon Artist" in issue 16.1 of Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review, which is available online at Small Press Distribution or in any of these fine bookstores.