Interview with Hannah Ford

This is one of an ongoing series of interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.

Hannah Ford grew up in Coldwater, Michigan, surrounded by cornfields and books. She graduated from Hope College in Holland, Michigan with a major in Creative Writing and is currently pursuing her MFA in fiction at the University of South Carolina. After obtaining her MFA, she intends to continue writing, pursue her doctorate in prose, and ultimately teach at the collegiate level. She has been published in Saw Palm, Lipstickparty Magazine, Lunch Ticket and Opus. More of her work can be found at Ford’s essay “The Buried Sawmill” appeared in issue 1.3 of The 3288 Review; her story “Sound Disappears” appeared in issue 1.4, and her story “De Capo” was printed in issue 2.1

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3288 Review: When did you first become interested in writing? Was there a specific person or event which served as a catalyst?

Hannah Ford: I’ve always been interested in writing, because writing goes hand and hand with reading. My parents literally taught me to walk by holding a book across the room from me, and since then I was—and still am—a voracious reader. In younger school years, I remember being the only student actually excited for essay day, one of the few who couldn’t wait to turn in a book report or begin another. Nonfiction literature analysis lit me up—but then I took a creative writing course in college. My first CW class was Creative Writing Nonfiction: the Personal Memoir. In all honesty, it was all of the training that I had that specifically prepared me to write this particular essay. I enjoyed the memoir class more than I had expected; learning the craft of writing challenged both my creative and my academic sides, and this discovery was the reason that I switched my major to a Writing Emphasis instead of a Literature emphasis. Since beginning my amateur writing career, nothing else satisfies or invigorates me the way that putting a pen to paper, slaving over a particular descriptive sentence, or crafting a complex, dynamic character does.

After that first CW course, the rest of my classes were in Fiction. I recently accepted an offer of admission from the University of South Carolina; come August, I will be pursuing my MFA in Creative Writing—Fiction, as well as serving as a Graduate Teaching Assistant.

3288 Review: Your essay “The Buried Sawmill” transposes some west Michigan history with some deeply personal events from your own life. What was your experience writing it, and how did it evolve during the writing?

Hannah Ford: I began this essay not knowing where it would take me—I wanted to explore man’s role in nature, but I had little else in mind for direction. My first draft was, no doubt, a jumbled mess of half-finished ideas, and out of my first attempts rose three strong themes: the persistence of nature, my father’s soul-altering experience in the outdoors, and my own redemptive experience. One theme was grounded in a concrete location with a history, one was grounded in the past, and one was my individual growth. I then separated these three ideas and wrote individual essays; to meld them into this completed braid essay, I literally cut the pages of the essays apart and sorted out the paragraphs as I felt they flowed.

The three themes coincided because they were all, in some way, my own (experience); whether writing about the dunes I had walked, the struggles I had worked through, or the relationships I had seen redeemed, this essay is my story. It evolved, ultimately, in recognizing that and in allowing myself to be the thread throughout each part of the braid.

3288 Review: Your write in a variety of styles and topics—essay, creative nonfiction, short stories, etcetera. Who are your influences right now? Who are you reading?

Hannah Ford: I’m currently reading Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead; I just finished The Orphan Master’s Son and The Screwtape Letters, as well as a collection of short stories. I suppose that answers your question better than any explanation could: I write in a variety of styles and topics because, clearly, I read in a variety of styles and topics.

I’ve been deeply influenced by the writing of Nicole Krauss, Louise Erdrich, Tim O’Brien, Elizabeth Strauss, and E.J. Levy. I cannot limit my influences to just those names, but I’ll spare you the complete and lengthy list. How lucky we are to have so many brilliant contemporaries—I’ll never have enough time to discover them all.

I’d be remiss if I neglected my most notable influence, Susanna Childress. My writing would be remedial, unrefined, un-encouraged without the hours and eons she invested in me while I studied at Hope College.

3288 Review: Your short story “Sound Disappears” uses a wide variety of musical terms and notations to provide nuance to the narrative. How did this come about? Are you also a musician?

Hannah Ford: I’ve played piano since I was ten, and out of that appreciation for piano came the main character in “Sound Disappears.” I’m not nearly as talented as the protagonist, but I do have enough knowledge to love the language of music. It’s a particular joy to take an interest of my own and flesh it out into a complete character, one consumed by that interest and complex in her own right. That’s one of the best parts of writing—developing a fictional person who is rooted, in some way, in truth.

3288 Review: Has any of your writing led you in an unexpected direction? How did you respond?

Hannah Ford: My writing has often led me in unexpected directions—and it’s these stories, poems, narratives that are the truest. In fiction: It’s happened more than once that I’ve written a story and, usually prompted by outside input, have then re-written the story from a different perspective, a different time in the main character’s life, etc. These restructured second (or third or fourth or fifth) drafts end up as the final finished draft, because they’re written when I know my character as I would know a friend, having spent time with them. One of my favorite pieces (“De Capo”—issue 2.1) was written about a minor character in “Sound Disappears” (issue 1.3). I didn’t intend to write “De Capo,” but when I finished “Sound Disappears,” that particular minor character had become so familiar and real to me that I had to flesh him out in his own story. That story, too, went through multiple drastic revisions, all leading in unexpected directions.

In nonfiction: I wouldn’t necessarily say that my nonfiction goes in an “unexpected” direction; I’d say it often goes in an unexpectedly vulnerable direction. In “Buried Sawmill,” for example, I didn’t intend the research aspect of the piece; when I was revising, a professor mentioned the mill near Saugatuck, and after researching it the theme that emerged fit almost seamlessly with the rest of the essay. What surprised me more, however, were the sections where I wrote candidly about personal struggles. I had intended the piece as a reflective nature piece, but it became a self-reflective and nature-related piece. I can’t help but color creative nonfiction with my own life experiences and perspectives; the experiences and perspectives that emerge, though, aren’t always what I intended to divulge (which is why I submit far more fiction pieces for publication than I do nonfiction).

3288 Review: Are you going to continue to explore the world of “Sound Disappears” and “De Capo?” Have you considered expanding these stories into a full novel?

Hannah Ford: Yes, I’m planning to continue to write interrelated stories that are linked to “Sounds Disappears” and “De Capo.” That will likely be my thesis at the University of South Carolina: a full-length manuscript of linked short stories, centered around the characters I’ve written about in “Sound Disappears” and “De Capo.” I’ve written a few other pieces connected to those characters; they’re not quite publishable, yet, but they’re on their way.

I’m excited to see where this set of linked shorts takes me. As I mentioned, even within these two pieces I was taken in a direction I hadn’t planned. I’m looking forward to further developing other characters within the world I’ve begun to form.

3288 Review: What are you working on now? Anything scheduled for publication in the months ahead?

Hannah Ford:  I just had a fiction piece published at Lipstick Party Mag (online) entitled “How to Raise Her,” and they’ve recently accepted a nonfiction piece that will be published at some point in the next month or so. I’ve been writing rather sporadically this summer—mostly fiction, some poetry. A handful of the stories have some potential to be developed and published, but most were just practice and writing for the sake of writing.