Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Kelly Griffiths’ nonfiction piece, The Boots
Sommer: These are my favorite lines in your moving essay: “I have come to understand: mortal blows are delivered in soft, careful tones. They are enunciated.” It’s very true and beautifully said. Does this realization make you more or less likely to use such “enunciated tones” yourself?
Kelly: Your question made me realize—that if my words will be wounds—I do speak them softly, yes, and enunciate them. Why? Soft words fall as gently on my own ears as on the recipient’s, and enunciated words will be understood the first time. No one wants to say them twice. Maybe we think by softening the tone, we mitigate the content. Not so!
Was it difficult to access the courage to write about something so painful in your life? Do you have any advice for writers who want to, but don’t know how to, write about painful truth?
When I write, I don’t think of publication. My advice for other writers would be to write honestly and without inhibition. Then, on the glorious day your work is published, you can do like I do: hunker down with your hands over your ears and wait to see if anything explodes. The first-draft is a fists-clenched, heavenward scream. Second, third, or thirtieth drafts are where the healing takes place, at least for me. Writing about a painful truth means I no longer have to bear the whole burden of it because I’ve shared it.
Focusing on things that are not the source of a person’s pain is pretty common, probably especially for children for whom most everything is quite mysterious. For adults, I suppose this tendency is a form of denial. I love how you show this in your essay by spending time on incidences that pull the attention from the heart of the matter and thus paradoxically further focus the heart of the matter. How did you accomplish this without falling into the trap of vagueness and denial yourself?
Sometimes the story itself pulls you along, that the raw facts need only be transcribed. That’s how I feel about “The Boots.” How I hated those boots. It was through the process of writing that the revelation came: the boots were innocent. Childish misunderstanding is a microscope for the human condition in general and helped me focus this story.
Any advice for writers on handling rejection?
Read about other greats who were rejected. Sometimes the writing isn’t the problem. It doesn’t matter how well the clams were prepared if the editor hates clams. At each rejection, I re-check my story and send it off to the next editor, hoping for a different result. Or I write something different and try again if the publication’s one I really covet. I submitted to The Forge in 2016 and was not accepted. I read more, wrote more, and tried again with a different piece—and here I am!
What are you working on these days?
So glad you asked! I finished my novel, Trespass, and am querying agents. As of this interview, it’s been just days since I sent my first queries, so I haven’t had a rejection yet. It’s a cushy little moment of hope and self-satisfaction.
Thank you for you doing this interview with me, and congratulations!