Mortality, Writing Obsessions, and Keeping Going Day by Day

An Interview with DS Levy

By Fiction Editor, Ann Fisher

Also, teaching has made me a better reader and, I hope, a better writer, because I have to think about “how” the story works and then articulate that “how-ness” to other writers. I’ve always said, “If you want to learn, teach.”

–DS Levy

“Wild” touches on friendship, age, wealth and even the supernatural— did you set out to weave those elements into the story? 

Yes! I read a lot of contemporary fiction, and there are so many terrific writers out there. But many of those writers are young (well, a lot younger than I am), and though their stories are beautiful, sometimes they’re hard for me to relate to because the characters are at such a different point in their lives than I am. Look, growing older is great … but it’s not for the fainthearted! Your mortality smacks you in the face at every turn. And how to keep on keeping on? That’s what I’m interested in when I read. So, I decided to write a story about three women, my age, trying to figure out how to keep going day by day.

In one scene, the narrator, Kora, pauses to notice that “I was the outlier, the one in the middle, but I was loved.” What do you hope your readers take away from her experience?

I hope that after reading my story, people realize how important friendships can be, especially as one gets older. Of course, time wears away those relationships. And sometimes you face having to cast off relationships. But occasionally you get to “add to,” and sometimes, as with these ladies, you end up creating a new kind of “family.” Even outliers, which almost always happens in a threesome (think: “third wheel”), can still find solace and happiness.

Which character are you drawn to personally?

Well, that’s a tough one, but I guess I’d have to say the narrator, Kora, who’s the philosopher of the group. However, I really admire Bets, who is everything I’m not—a woman who formerly lived life to its max, but now is only half the crazy-fun she used to be. Kora is a bystander, an outlier, though she does fit somewhere between her friends, Bets and Fonda, who “always did compete,” as some women do, over looks and turning heads. Both Bets and Kora are trying to figure out where their friendship with Fonda stands, now that she’s hit the Big Time. How friendships change over time—that was a driving force in this story, for sure.

Which character was the most fun for you to write into being? Which was the hardest to create?

Even though I say I’m most like Kora, there are stark differences between us, and those differences were the most fun for me to write. Take her stance on Taylor Swift; I really don’t have much of an opinion about the singer, and I surely don’t feel quite as negative about her as Kora does. And Kora is much more curmudgeonly than I am—though I do have strong feelings about people with their noses pointed at smartphones.

You embedded a quote from Frost and used an Oliver quote as the stepping-stone into the story. Tell us a bit about those decisions.

I love Mary Oliver—love, love, love her. Many people deride her simplicity. But just try to do what she does, and make it count, make it touch the heart. She was a true prophet as far as I’m concerned—and so too, Frost. I used both quotes as touchstones. Oliver, for the epigraph, as a preface and an honor to her; Frost, in the text, for a poetic reverberation, if possible. The latter, I hope, is where the main character’s epiphany happens, the reason for a poetic reference.

Can you tell us a bit about your writing process, and what supports do you rely on as a writer?

I teach creative writing—not as much lately—and I have to say that teaching doesn’t automatically mean I know everything about writing a story; I don’t. In discussing someone else’s work, I learn right along with students how the story is perceived. I learn from the students, is what I’m saying. Also, teaching has made me a better reader and, I hope, a better writer, because I have to think about “how” the story works and then articulate that “how-ness” to other writers. I’ve always said, “If you want to learn, teach.” As for writerly supports, I rely on reading as much as I can, and I have two really good readers, my husband, who doesn’t hold back criticism (which is great!) and my friend (and terrific writer/artist), AnnMarie Roselli-Kissack. Both help me to see and re-see my stories in their various iterations.

What is your go-to when you aren’t feeling the piece you are working on is going well?

My go-to is to get up and leave the room, literally. I go out for a run or take my dog for a walk. And another thing: I often switch it off and work on something else. I have lots of stories going all the time. I often work like one of those circus performers who keep a bunch of plates spinning all at once. I love and respect the writing process, but I don’t put it on a top shelf—I play, I try to have fun. Life is too short to not enjoy the process of making/creating story worlds.

Where else have you published your work?

I’ve published in many online lit journals, as well as some traditional journals. Recently, though I know it’s normally considered verboten, I’ve self-published two story collections, with a third on the way, and thoroughly enjoyed that process. Self-publishing has made me consider books as art objects, and having to make graphic and design selections has been an interesting and pleasurable experience. And, I must add, self-publishing has been liberating in the sense that I can write whatever I want to write without having to consider audience, gate-keepers, subject matter, etc.

What are you currently working on? 

Well, as mentioned, my obsessions are loss and time, and their interplay, and my stories always circle around those topics. I have another collection of “weird, dark” stories I’m hoping to get out by the first of 2024, and, as mentioned, I plan to continue hanging out with these three women to see what they’re up to and where their lives will go. I also have a novella I’m currently working on; about a retired adjunct whose life gets toggled when a former student calls her one day out of the blue. And this is the second time I’ve written about the three women in “Wild,” so I already knew them. This story allowed me to get to know them better. I like them so much, I plan to keep writing about them and envision creating a novella with them at center stage. Lately, I’ve been reading Claire Keegan’s marvelous small narrative jewels (she’s amazing; I’m telling everyone I know to read her), and if I could even bring my three women’s lives to bear the way Keegan does with her characters—well, well, I dream on.

By Ann Fisher

Ann Fisher is fiction co-editor of Mud Season Review. Ann lives, works, and writes at the base of the Green Mountains. Her work has appeared in AcrosstheMargin, The Sonder Review, Heartwood Literary Magazine, ZigZagLitMag, and About Place Journal, among others.