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Q&A with Nonfiction Contributor E.E. Hussey

E.E. Hussey was born in the Philippines and raised in Japan and Italy. She is the recipient of a scholarship from Tin House Writers’ Workshop and a grant from the Vermont Studio Center. She is an MFA student at the University of Alabama. Find her online at eehussey.com or @eehussey.

Her essay “Monstrum” will appear in the Winter 2019 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, January 13, for special savings.

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In "Monstrum," you write about your experience of working in a lab where rats are experimented on. How has your background in science writing influenced your creative nonfiction?

I was twenty-three when I started working in a surgical research lab, and a couple years after that I moved on to a diagnostic lab before eventually leaving to focus on editing and writing. Those years definitely shaped the way I approach writing. I worked with and for some brilliant people who taught me how to question processes, events, and details. In my first graduate program, that sense of questioning was finetuned. It keeps me curious.

Science writing taught me the value of concise and succinct writing. It comes in handy when I’m drafting fiction. I spend far less time on first drafts and flesh out the details in revision. Once I get a general idea of how I want something to look, I create a skeletal draft and then spend the rest of the time researching or reading until I’m ready to expand on the draft.

Throughout the story, you continuously bring up monsters to help explain how we, as a society, have viewed the concept of monstrosity. During the drafting of this story, how did you work through the structural approach, and how did it help you piece together the story?

I started rereading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Sarah Stewart Johnson’s “O-rings” in The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2014. Johnson’s piece was incredible; I read it over and over again. I was in my first graduate program and had spent weeks poring over scientific articles and news stories… I read Johnson’s piece exactly when I needed it most. I was suffering from burn out at that point and had forgotten what it was like to love science narratives. Johnson weaves together her experiences as a planetary scientist, Robert F. Scott’s expedition to the South Pole, the Challenger explosion, and uses O-rings as the tie between narratives. After reading Johnson and maybe something by Annie Dillard, I wanted to write a piece that was structurally different than anything I had tried before.

My process usually begins with some scribbled notes and a couple books or articles I admire. The outline I wrote for this piece was the definition of “monster” and squiggle lines representing where I’d place the other narratives. I’m also a huge fan of The X-Files and more than likely was binge watching Monster of the Week episodes. That’s something I do often: watch television shows and look for plot movement to start the drafting process. “Research.”

In drafting, I wrote the monster section first. I had an idea of how I wanted the finished piece to look but had to have the spine done before I could weave around it. The rest sprung up naturally around that main theme.

This essay easily segues and transfers between personal experience, concepts, and finally a familial connection to the themes. Are you working on similarly-structured essays moving forward? Or what else are you working on for 2019?

I’m wrapping up my short story collection! These stories also involve science or the environment and explore societal identities. Two involve research settings. A few of the stories play with structure, or at least they do in their current iterations. After I finish that project, I’ll focus on a novel that explores cultural identity and the environmental consequences WWII brought to the human/nonhuman entities in the South Pacific. I’d like to write a nonfiction piece on encephalitis soon, but I have to guard my time until the short story collection is off my obsessions list.

After you submitted your essay you applied to join Carve's volunteer reading committee, reviewing fiction submissions. How would you describe your experience of reading submissions? What have you learned or noticed?

A basic answer: Clarifying. I have a better understanding of the editorial and curatorial processes within the literary magazine format. I’ve also become more aware of the frequency of patterns in narrative—narrative framing/pacing/syntax. It’s rewarding as well to be able to volunteer my time to a lively community. It’s inspiring to see such a variety of voices within the submissions.