Thursday, June 3, 2021

Stacey Swann

Stacey Swann holds an M.F.A. from Texas State University and was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. Her fiction has appeared in Epoch, Memorious, Versal, and other journals, and she is a contributing editor of American Short Fiction. She is a native Texan.

Swann's new novel is Olympus, Texas.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

Before I even had any specific characters or plot, I had the idea to write a novel that somehow merged classic mythology with modern Texas and all of its state mythology. The title Olympus, Texas allowed me to evoke both at the same time. I’m also a writer that is drawn to setting, so I wind up with a lot of place names as titles. I hope that readers can connect with the landscape of this part of Texas as clearly as they do the characters in the book.

What's in a name?

Coming up with the names of my characters was so much fun for me. I wanted names that riffed off the gods they were based on but still felt at home in modern rural Texas. Like most Americans, I’m more familiar with the names of the Greek gods than their Roman counterparts, but the Roman names were much easier to adapt so mine also lean towards the Roman gods: Peter for Jupiter, June for Juno, March for Mars, Vera for Venus. In general, I do love unusual names in fiction. But I also think they have to be used sparingly. For every Hap and Lavinia, you need a Peter and a Ryan.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Not very surprised at all, actually. I had a love of Greek mythology as a child, and the setting of Olympus, Texas borrows heavily from the area of Texas I lived in until I was eighteen. My teenage self would only be surprised that I had gotten a novel published, as I unfortunately didn’t have a high regard for my own creativity at that age. I thought I was doomed to love novels but never produce one of my one.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

I find endings much harder! There’s something about the wide-open potential of openings that makes it easy for me to write. Here we have a married couple (Peter and June), with grown children, in a strained relationship that is further strained by the actions of one of their kids. When I first start, I’m feeling open to every possibility and the characters have loads to tell me. But the ending needs to factor in everything that passed in the previous hundreds of pages, and it needs to both satisfy the reader and also not feel totally expected. No easy feat! The last seventy-five pages of Olympus, Texas needed a lot of revision passes to get them right.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

I have always loved movies. One of my toughest decisions was deciding whether to major in English and Film in undergrad. I often write in the present tense in fiction, even though past tense is the more common convention, and I think it’s because when I am drafting, I see the scenes in my head like a movie. Movies exist in the present tense to me. My novel also has a lot of arguments in it. I’ve had a passion for fictional arguments ever since I saw the film version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.
Visit Stacey Swann's website.

--Marshal Zeringue