When applying for grants or positions, one must write one of these, so here's mine:
My current work in both fiction (The Worship of Storms: A Novel) and nonfiction (“The Best Revenge” a personal essay) addresses the concerns of women coming of age, specifically, self-discovery through sexual encounters and friendships with men and women. Sometimes fraught with conflict and misunderstanding, these interactions have the power to destroy or to heal. Tidy redemption does not interest me, yet I also reject an easy cynicism. Depicting alienation without moments of connection strikes me as a biased, false-serious approach, which bears no resemblance to my own experience of life.
When I write, I strive for elegance and beauty, but lyricism can be as deceptive as cynicism. Writing beautiful sentences about traumatic experiences creates a powerful and haunting dissonance. I do not wish to romanticize trauma, but to convey honestly difficult experiences that influence a character (or myself) and that crystallize identity. By writing visually and with sensorial clarity, I hope to make the reader feel empathy and connection with my characters and with myself. This specificity leads to catharsis and recognition of basic universal truths that transcend my own experience to reach a broad range of readers.
When writing nonfiction, the principles laid out by Philip Lopate in his introduction to The Art of the Personal Essay are always foremost in my mind. The essay, according to Lopate, is a way to show the mind at work. To essay is to make a run at something without knowing whether you will succeed. This notion appeals to me, as experience is thorny and puzzling, and the essay form celebrates ambivalence. I also study closely the work of Ariel Levy for visual language; James Baldwin for wrestling with complex thinking; and George Orwell for a model in studying the self within historical contexts.
As a novelist, my influences are wide-ranging, and as I’m currently writing a first-person narrative, I study writers who practice in both prose forms. Margaret Atwood is a model for writing about women’s issues, specifically her novels Cat’s Eye and The Blind Assassin. To capture the lyric and the comic, I look to Vladimir Nabokov’s novels and as well as his memoir, Speak Memory. For inspiration in writing about Ireland, I look to James Joyce for a critical eye on Catholicism; Rosemary Mahoney, for magnificent descriptions of setting; and to contemporary Irish writer, Kevin Barry, for spot-on dialogue.
In a culture where snark and sharp-tongued retorts are the dominant discourse, I strive in my writing to capture less aggressive craft: I want to write beautiful sentences; I want to show how love connects people in miraculous ways, despite death, destruction, and pain.