This is one of an ongoing series of interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.
Carly Plank is a graduate teaching assistant at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She is working towards her Master’s degree in Creative Writing. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Aquinas College in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Her creative nonfiction has been published in 34th Parallel and her entertainment journalism has appeared in Revue Magazine. She is currently working on a collection of creative nonfiction as her thesis project. Carly’s short story “Voir Dire” appeared in issue 1.3 of The 3288 Review.
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3288 Review: How did you get your start as a writer? Was there a particular event which started you down this road?
Carly Plank: Since fourth grade, I have kept a daily journal, which might be why, when I write fiction, I often gravitate toward realistic fiction. I actually majored in biology at Aquinas College, and I enrolled in a creative nonfiction workshop during my junior year because one of my good friends, Rachael Steil, had recommended the professor. I was very fortunate that my first workshop experience involved generous classmates and an encouraging professor, Dr. Brent Chesley. The entire English department at Aquinas is so supportive. I took more classes with Dr. Chesley and with poet and current Emeritus faculty Miriam Pederson, and they helped me with the process of applying to master’s programs in creative writing. So overall, I have to say that the collaborative atmosphere within the writing program at Aquinas College guided my decision to minor in creative writing there and continue on to the Master’s of Creative Writing program at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
3288 Review: What was the inspiration for your story “Voir Dire”, and what was your experience writing it?
Carly Plank: The inspiration for “Voir Dire” arose from a combination of my interim job at a chemistry lab in Kalamazoo and conversations with my grandmother about her disappointment that she has never been summoned for jury duty. She thought the experience would be dramatic and exciting, like a television show, so I wanted to create some of that drama within the story but also show that life outside of the courtroom can be equally dramatic outside of the legal system on a daily basis. The conceit of the story came about when I was struggling to reconcile these two major ideas. I decided to construct a character whose work in the lab and experience serving jury duty paralleled events in her personal life. My stories usually arise out of attempts to connect seemingly disparate events and ideas. Fitting them together into a story is a challenge, like completing a puzzle with a seemingly infinite number of potentialities.
3288 Review: What is your graduate school experience like so far? Has it changed the way you write?
Carly Plank: I am a first year in the Creative Writing Master’s program at Miami University. So far, my experience in graduate school is everything I hoped for. I have time to work on my thesis, which is a novella-length work of creative nonfiction about the gap years I took between undergrad and graduate school. Most of the essays, which are in the form of short essays and vignettes, take place at a restaurant I worked at during those years, and the rest of the project is related to the people I came to know while I worked there and how they impacted my life. Graduate writing workshop has helped me learn how to filter the feedback I receive. As a writer, staying true to your intentions is extremely important. In graduate school, I’ve learned to follow my instincts and hold myself accountable to producing a high quality of work on a regular basis. A lot of people recommend that writers should meet a page count or write a certain number of words each day, but graduate school has taught me that quality definitely trumps quantity. I’ve learned a lot about my writing process. What works for me–ruminating on an idea until I feel comfortable writing about it, rather than forcing mediocre words out on a daily basis–is not the same as what works for other people. It’s tough sometimes not to be influenced by the habits and styles of your colleagues, but graduate school is all about discovering how to be true to yourself and your intentions.
3288 Review: What is your intention when you sit down to write? Is it something which changes from session to session, or is it more an over-riding sensibility you apply to all of your work?
Carly Plank: My prevailing intention is always to capture beauty and pain–to make a short story as enjoyable and urgent as a song. I apply this standard to all of my work regardless of length or genre. Because I want every sentence to shimmer and to enhance the rest of the story, the initial draft is always the most tedious part of the writing process for me. Until I have a draft I am somewhat satisfied with on a sentence level, I find it extremely difficult to have faith that the story can be salvaged. I am tempted to scrap the whole thing, but there is usually one kernel of something that’s working, and I can’t leave it alone.
3288 Review: By those standards, what do you consider to be your most successful story?
Carly Plank: What I believe has the potential to be my most successful story is one I am still working to publish, although I’m not sure it’s quite finished yet. I never really know until I send it out for publication. I’m a pretty poor judge of completion because, like I said, the rhythm of the prose and the use of imagery often carries a story, in my opinion. I don’t want to give too much away, but the story I’m talking about deals with the journey an athlete who overcomes the adversity of her upbringing and competes for a championship in her sport. Contained within the story are extreme high points and devastating lows as well as public and private struggles; it’s a world of extremes, which will hopefully keep readers on the edges of their seats wondering what’s going to happen to the main character in the end.
3288 Review: Do you tend to work on one piece at a time, or do you have a stack of in-progress work?
Carly Plank: I tend to work on one piece at a time because I write pretty slowly. I like the atmosphere of a story to be fully formed before I attempt a first draft. I like to feel as if I’m standing there, inside the story. That often means I’ll have pages of ideas and notes for multiple stories, but I’m only actually writing one at a time. For example, now I am working on a memoir for my master’s thesis. I have a complete outline but I only work on one section at a time so I can be fully present in whichever section that happens to be. Once I have a full draft of a story or a section of my thesis, I will leave it alone for quite a while until I have completed something else. Then I’ll go back and edit with a new perspective and some critical distance that allows me to attack the story with fresh energy. The way the writing workshops function at Miami, I usually submit three stories per semester. I won’t edit them right away. Instead, I let the comments and suggestions sit in a pile on my desk until the end of the semester when I’ll edit and submit.
3288 Review: What’s your plan after you complete your MA? Continue on to a PhD or move in another direction?
Carly Plank: I would love to continue on to earn a PhD in creative writing. I will probably apply to two to four PhD programs to be considered for the fall of 2017. With my personality, I know if I were to pursue something other than being a student and graduate assistant, creative work would take the backseat to my day job. Without the constant pressure to produce work worthy of a community of trusted writers, the quality of my work would probably decline, or else I’d end up reading all day instead of writing. Either way, I want to continue in academics as long as I can because the schedule of teaching and taking classes gives me more time and motivation to write than I’ve ever had. I want to continue to focus on my craft, on doing things my way, for as long as I can.