Clarke Clayton studied writing at Barnard College, where she received the Peter S. Prescott Prize and the Howard M. Teichmann Prize. Her stories appear in Storychord, Knee-Jerk, and Foundling Review. In 2013, she was the recipient of a residency grant from the Vermont Studio Center. Her story “Sculptures” was a runner-up for the 2013 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest and appears in the Winter 2014 issue of The Kenyon Review.
Can you identify the seed of inspiration of your story “Sculptures”? What was the hardest part about writing it?
The first part of the story appeared to me fully formed, so I can’t name one seed of inspiration for it—if I were to try to, I’d say it emerged from a tangle of misremembered childhood memories.
The second section’s inspiration was an evening a couple of summers ago at the beach with friends. It all started as an average night in the Hamptons with a group of twenty-somethings but devolved into a kind of bacchic frenzy that seemed ripe for fictionalizing.
The hardest part about writing it was finding a way to make the separate sections into one story. I had a hard time connecting the two halves in a way that felt natural, not too contrived.
Your story in KR, “Sculptures,” plays with ideas of shaping and formation over time. Could you tell us a little bit about how the metaphor of sculpting informs our understanding of the main character’s self-image and interior life?
This is a difficult question for me to answer because I work unconsciously. That said, I think the metaphor of sculpting is about possessing authority, control. For the girls in the story, sculpting is the device through which they become aware of their conflicting desires for both approval and also for their own ability to shape.
In the beginning section, the girls are really cruel to the father character partially because they have a lot of frustration about the idea that he is observing and recording something about them in his work. Being the subject of a sculpture is something that is appealing but troubling as well. They resent him for having the power to validate their existence, their bodies, through his artwork. Yet they want it desperately, too.
Later in the story, the girls are still struggling with passivity. They find it exhilarating to go swimming with their clothes on, which is an indulgent, childish behavior, but this scene is about them feeling powerful. They aren’t being passive; they get in the water and feel the mud under their feet—they’re finally touching the clay, so to speak.
Which non-writing-related aspect of your life most influences your writing?
Travel, but I mean that word very broadly, not just in the vacation-y sense of the word. Moving between places takes you outside of the present, and can prompt nostalgia or déjà vu, sensations that turn up in my writing frequently.
Of all the things you could be doing, why do you write?
Writing is a compulsion for me, although as compulsions go, it’s a pretty healthy one. Even though it’s a challenging process, writing tends to be a source of pleasure and peace of mind. I am powerful and in control as a writer in ways that I never feel in the rest of my life (at my day job, in my relationships, etc). So it’s a very important part of my life.
Could you tell us a little about one of your current or upcoming writing projects?
Right now I’m attempting to turn a novella into a novel-length manuscript. It feels like grabbing the edges of something fragile and pulling as hard as I can—potentially destructive! But hopefully not.