Shauna Seliy is the author of the novel When We Get There (Bloomsbury). She grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in Hinchas de Poesia, Alaska Quarterly Review, and the New Orleans Review. She teaches at Northwestern University and is at work on a new novel. Her story “Kingdom” appears in the Summer 2014 issue of The Kenyon Review.
Can you identify the seed of inspiration of your story “Kingdom”? What was the hardest part about writing it?
Many years ago my stepfather told me a story about being in a barber’s chair when he was a kid. The police came storming in after the guy in the chair next to him, a known numbers runner, who immediately started eating the evidence. I had that story for a long time, but nowhere to go with it. I had to wait for some other things to fall into the net. Then some years later, I heard a story from my stepdad’s cousin about how when her mother was pregnant with her, in a moment of despair, she headed for the train tracks, but was stopped by a chance meeting with a family friend.
The hardest part about writing it? Having just looked at the completed version in the summer issue, I was about to write in answer to that question— “Nothing, it was terrific fun. Thanks so much for asking!” But then I looked back at my files and there are over forty drafts of the story, many of them full of notes, questions, taunts addressed to self, false starts, on and on.
What have you learned about the writing process in the last five years?
I have a two and a half year old son. Before we had him, I had the most outlandish excuses for not writing that somehow seemed completely legit to me: the dog is staring at me is the one my partner liked the most. But a little boy staring at you, wanting food, love, or a purchase from which to look out the window. Wow, I should have written more when it was just the dog staring at me.
Which non-writing-related aspect of your life most influences your writing?
Music. And I’m so grateful to all the storytellers in my life.
In the 1950′s, John Crowe Ransom invited a coterie of critics (William Empson, Northrop Frye, etc.) to write a “credo” for The Kenyon Review. The results became an essay series by ten leading critics on their core beliefs regarding literature and the critical practice, entitled “My Credo.” What would you include in your own credo? What core beliefs do you have about literature and books?
When I’ve gone through tough times, I pile up books by my bed and on my desk, stacks of poetry collections, novels, nonfiction, photography books, art books, whatever. Sometimes I don’t even open them. I just get to feeling better sitting next to them. Books are a kind of universal medicine. I think people who love to read, or love to write (or to have written!)—I think we all know this.
Could you tell us a little about one of your current or upcoming writing projects?
I’m writing more stories about Emil Jankovich, the boy in “Kingdom.” And for years now, I’ve been working on a short novel that was, at first, about a women in her twenties going on a trip to Istanbul. Now she’s in her thirties. By the time I finish it, it may be about a retiree or maybe a nonagenarian who takes one final cruise to Istanbul!