Rachael Levitt has an MFA in Creative Writing from Chatham University. Her work has been published in Fodor’s Travel Guides, The Citron Review, Weave Magazine, and the anthology The Places We’ve Been: A Field Report From Travelers Under 35, among others. She lives and writes in Los Angeles.
Empty Sink Publishing: You tackle serious subject matter in this story: teen pregnancy, gambling addiction, social injustice, culture clashes, religious intolerance. And yet, the first time I read the story, I found myself smiling throughout at the lighthearted manner in which Patricia considers her world. Did you intend for Patricia to have this outlook, or was that simply how she developed as a character?
Rachael Levitt: Patricia came to me fully formed. Putting her into words was like pouring cement into a mold. The trick for me was putting her in this carnival of a convenience store. How would this character who I know so well do in this absurd situation—a place where she’s so anxious and distracted? Patricia was true to herself throughout the story, but I had to find out how she’d act under the circumstances.
SPOILER ALERT—HIGHLIGHT TO READ:
ESP: I have to ask about the end of the story. You could have gone a million different ways, but you chose to close with a fatal car accident that kills Patricia. Why did you feel such drastic action was necessary for Patricia’s ultimate redemption?
RL: I see why it could be interpreted that way—it’s certainly a dark moment of uncertainty when the story ends—but her death is not actually definitive. It underscores what it’s like for a deeply religious person to consider life and death, the time spent living and what comes after. What does death mean to someone when something comes next? What about life? And when that’s applied to the sacrifices of motherhood—that primordial, animal instinct to protect and endure—how is it compounded?
ESP: Would you mind sharing a little bit about the process you use when revising your work?
RL: I wish it were something as dignified as a “process.” To me, writing is the equivalent of taking a shit and trying to sculpt something from it that people won’t be repulsed by. I try again and again. And when I’m stuck, I ask for help. I’ve never come away from an editor’s feedback or a workshop with a piece in worse shape than before.
ESP: If you could have dinner with one writer, living or dead, who would it be and where would you eat?
RL: Jeannette Winterson, what a woman. I once heard her read a chapter of her memoir at a writing conference and the entire auditorium was in stitches. Anyone who can make horribly sad things hysterical is definitely getting some brunch with me, somewhere with bottomless mimosas and extra strong coffee.
ESP: If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?
RL: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I’ve read it a million times, I’ll probably read it a million more.
ESP: If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring writers, what would it be?
RL: Don’t beat yourself up. Any writing is a beautiful thing. Creation adds positivity to your life, so just keep at it. Don’t muck that up with guilt or self-loathing regarding production, or even quality. That sounds convenient, but it’s totally sincere.
ESP: What role do non-literary art forms such as film, music and visual arts play in your writing, if any?
RL: Is it too fanciful to say that everything’s a tale? Paintings and songs, but also jokes, habits, attitudes. It’s less about what than how. When something is communicated so fucking beautifully that it’s moving—oh my god, to be moved! It’s transcendent. But in more concrete terms, film and TV are excellent studies in pacing and characters, and I admire the flash and style.
ESP: When was the first time that you consciously felt your life affected by art; what was the art form and who was the artist?
RL: When I was really little, I had a VHS tape of music videos by the B-52s. I used to stand in front of the TV singing along and pretending I was in the band. The B-52s were so far out in every way—the catchy party tunes, the wild aesthetic, the total embrace of weirdness—it was hysterical and incredible. I still go see them in concert whenever I can, and I dance myself dead.
ESP: What inspires and drives you when you create fiction?
RL: To get whatever is stuck looping in my mind out of my body and packaged up neatly somewhere I can study it. Writing helps me to look at all sorts of angles of complicated people and circumstances. I have a compulsive need to understand.