Expressing Identity

Carley Gomez

Fiction co-editor Kathrin Hutson recently had this exchange with Issue #43 featured fiction writer Carley Gomez. Here’s what Carley had to say about her inspiration for writing fiction, her early attempts at writing, what she’s working on now, and more… 

What inspired you to write “What Does a Nine Year-Old Know?

I had this image in my mind of a father learning about his daughter’s identity in an aquarium, and I was really interested in the way a father-daughter relationship can develop out of revelatory moments.

What do you hope people take away from this story?

I hope the story conveys the way that past pain lingers, but that we can work past it to make sure the future is bright.

Why did you decide to write from Tim’s point of view? Was there any significance in telling this story through a father’s point of view instead of a mother’s?

Tim has his history and issues to work through, and I generally feel it’s important that characters’ pasts be reflected in their present. Tim was actually the only character whose perspective I considered writing from. So frequently children’s emotional revelations are portrayed to be mediated through maternal figures, and I think a father can have this role too.

How did this story evolve as you worked on it, especially the ending?

I had a very clear picture in my mind of how I wanted this story to end, but I do have a tendency to be a little wordy in my endings. Thankfully the editors helped me work towards conciseness!

How long did this story take to complete from start to finish?

This story took me a few days to write. Every once in a while I’m lucky enough to think of an idea that I can just groove with. This was one of those stories that just clicked for me.

What topics or themes do you find you’re most interested in exploring through your work?

I tend to explore manifestations of intergenerational trauma. People carry the weight of their family histories and it’s important to work through those pasts. I’m also interested in intersecting identities—the way we experience and express who we are.

What were your early attempts at writing like? Did you dabble in other genres? How did you eventually settle on fiction?

I wrote a lot of angsty poetry and some outrageous novel beginnings in middle school. By the time I went to college I just realized that I didn’t want to live my life without writing, that I really needed fiction. I was an avid fiction reader so writing fiction was a default.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a linked short story collection influenced by object oriented ontology—a theoretical framework that decenters humans. The narrative itself is about Chicago at the end of the world. I’m really interested in the detritus and objects left behind by people.

What are your thoughts on writers using their voices for social justice in these times? (What do you see as the role of writers in times of war or political unrest?)

For me writing is always political. By expressing identity and exploring complexity of character, I aim to remind myself and readers that stereotypes are bullshit and that people are flawed. By looking into intergenerational trauma and the struggles within the contemporary U.S., I hope to remind people of the social issues that still exist and that we can do more to help.

Do you have any advice for beginning writers on how to develop their own voice?

Observe your surroundings closely. Look for the underlying causes of behaviors. Also make sure to read. By trying to understand and see the world, you’ll have a better shot at portraying something that rings true and has intention.


Carley Gomez is a Cuban-American writer pursuing her Ph.D. in fiction at the University of Missouri, where she is a Gus T. Ridgel Fellow. She has an MFA in writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her fiction can be found in Passages North and Mid-American Review, and is forthcoming in Lake Effect and Storm Cellar. In 2018, she won a Margery McKinney Short Fiction Award judged by Anne Valente.

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