Nina Boutsikaris is a nonfiction MFA candidate at the University of Arizona, where she is the nonfiction editor of Sonora Review. Her recent work appears or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Puerto del Sol, Hobart, Brevity, Booth, Phoebe, Spartan and elsewhere. Her short nonfiction piece, “What Doo-Wop Does” was a finalist in MAR’s 2014 Fineline competition and appears in issue 35.1. First line: “I loved that summer because of the Slovaks, eight sinewy dancers who came to live at a defunct farm up the road from my family’s house.”
Quick! Summarize “What Doo-Wop Does” in 10 words or fewer.
July brings heat, dancers and endings. I take it in.
What can you share about this piece prior to its MAR publication?
This piece came out of one specific memory, one brief moment in deep summer when I caught my mother spying on my father. They were not divorced yet, but I think they were separated at the time on some kind of trial period. Or at least, she hadn’t moved out, but they were sleeping in separate beds and the boundaries of our family unit had begun to blur. I was on high alert to the changes. In a way, I have always sort of thought of my mother as this strong force of energy and will who had to leave my father because she was the one who needed a new life. But this memory pokes holes in my whole fantasy about both her and my father. I tried over explaining this, writing it in a more expository way, but in the end the version that made the most sense was mostly imagistic and fleeting, especially as told through the eyes of a child.
What was the worst/best feedback you received on this piece?
Someone told me I had to include more back-story about my parents’ relationship, but I think you get everything you need to know in this vignette. Sometimes less is more…right? Right??
You’re at a family reunion and some long-lost relative asks about your writing. What do you say?
I’m obsessed with loneliness, intimacy and power, whatever those things mean. I don’t know how else to talk about this but to tell it through things I witness or experience, things that really happened—meaning they both actually happened and deeply happened.
What do you consider your biggest writing-related success?
The opportunity to teach creative writing is probably the greatest writing gift I’ve ever received. Teaching has forced me to become a more eloquent and thoughtful editor and reader not just of others’ work but of my own as well. Every day I’m challenged to be an ambassador to the genre and that has to be one of the best ways to learn what awesome things are happening with nonfiction, what’s happening today and what’s happened in the past and why.
Do you have another favorite piece of writing in this MAR issue? If so, name it and tell us why.
I adore Allison Adair’s “Letter to my Niece, in Silverton Colorado.” In this very short piece Adair makes gorgeous leaps of association with images and poetry that are so beautiful and tragic and wise. She is able to take us on a deep and cosmic journey in just a page. She writes, “I’m trying to say that the waves used to roll in, and then back out.” And I know exactly what she’s trying to say.
Thanks for the interview, Nina!
Laura Maylene Walter, Fiction Editor