Editors / Interviews

Interview with Kira Homsher: “I can’t get work done in ugly or bland environments.”

Kira K Homsher earned her MFA in Fiction at Virginia Tech, where she taught creative writing and composition. Currently, she serves as a Fiction Editor for X-R-A-Y. 

She previously was an Editorial Assistant for The Believer, Features Editor for Carve Magazine, Managing Editor for The New River, and Fiction Editor for the minnesota review. She graduated from Temple University in 2018 with degrees in English and Film, and has lived and studied in many cities, including Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Seattle, London, Tokyo, and (currently) Los Angeles. 

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Hi Kira! We’re delighted to have you as a guest on Famous Writing Routines. Can you tell us about your background and how it has influenced your writing? You’ve lived and studied in many cities, including Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Seattle, London, and Tokyo. How have these experiences shaped your writing?

Hi! Thanks for having me. To answer your first question, I grew up an only child in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My parents had me pretty late in life, so my whole extended family was much older than me. I attribute my early interest in language—and in stories—to the fact that I spent a lot of time alone as a child, devising ways of entertaining myself.

I often think of the characters in my stories as being only children—isolated young people who escape into fantasies and unrealities, craving but never securing meaningful connections. I also feel that I grew up online, which has majorly influenced the kinds of stories I’m interested in telling. I’m currently wrapping up my first manuscript, a collection of short stories, which grapples with 21st century themes of online identity formation, bodily alienation, and American paranoia, among other fun things. 

I’ve been very fortunate to spend time in many incredible cities across the world. A generous scholarship allowed me to study abroad three times during the course of my undergraduate studies, and I made a lot of wonderful friends all over. Surprisingly, I haven’t written much about my experiences abroad, even though I consider Tokyo as having this constant, ambient influence on the stories I write. I should probably write more about the different places I’ve been.   

You’ve had your work nominated for several literary awards, including the Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, Best Small Fictions, and the Shirley Jackson Awards. What does this recognition mean to you, and how has it impacted your writing career?

This is an obvious answer, but writing is largely a slow and isolating pursuit. It can often take months—or even years—to hear back about the status of a submission, and the wins are few and far between. I think most writers are susceptible to the natural lulls and dips of feeling like, “What am I even doing?” I try not to depend too much on external signifiers of progress and success, but it’s definitely nice to have things to celebrate and to have your efforts recognized. The best thing about these small wins, to me, is that they provide me with encouraging little spells of momentum, which makes it easier to dive into new projects.

As a Fiction Editor for X-R-A-Y, how does editing other people’s work inform your own writing?

The first thing that comes to mind is that, in reading for various literary magazines, I’ve become a lot more intentional about my titles. This might sound harsh, but when I’m reviewing submissions, I can often tell if a story will be a “no” just from the title alone.

More generally, the practice of identifying what isn’t working in individual stories has helped me to recognize similar patterns in my own writing. Of course, as an editor, you also come across stories that’ll absolutely floor you, and it’s so refreshing to discover excellent work before it’s even published. I think all writers who submit to literary magazines could benefit from working for or volunteering with publications. Even just serving as a reader for a little while makes you a much more effective submitter. 

My work as Audience Editor for Longreads and The Atavist was oriented toward promoting our publications across social media. I wouldn’t say that this position has really informed my creative writing (although the nonfiction published by both magazines is absolutely incredible), but it has definitely influenced the way I think about sharing my own work.

Aside from actual payment, enthusiastic promotion is the greatest gift a publication can offer its contributors. Before submitting to a journal or magazine, I always check for a strong and consistent digital platform with thoughtful promotion of its published work. 

Your writing has appeared in several publications, including Kenyon Review Online, Indiana Review, Passages North, Longreads, and DIAGRAM. How do you choose which stories to submit to which publications?

When I first started out submitting, I didn’t really know how to differentiate between publications and therefore had a lot of trouble discerning which stories would be good fits for which magazines. I sent my work out at random, hoping someone would bite. After three years of publishing work across genres, I’ve become more patient and intentional about the submission process.

Now that I’m close to completing my first story collection, I’ve been submitting to more “prestigious” publications, mostly for the opportunities that can come from placing a story with a high tier venue. That said, the most important thing is finding the right fit for your work. Even if a lit mag has a lot of prestige, I’m unlikely to submit if I don’t connect with the work they publish.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers who are just starting out on their journey?

At the risk of sounding like every other person to ever answer this question, my advice is to read. Read all kinds of stuff. Not just contemporary literature. In fact, maybe it’s best to avoid contemporary literature, at least at first. I think aspiring writers often suffer under their own impressions of what writing should look like, or what kinds of writing sells.

Skip around. Read authors from different time periods and countries. Read translations. Read fairy tales and fables. Read religious texts. Read scientific articles. Read diaries. Read about Gödel’s theorems of inconsistency. It takes years and years of reading until you can even write a single good sentence. Probably. At least, that’s how it was for me. 

I think a big part of writing at the initial stages is learning to accept that the things you’re producing just aren’t very good. It took me way longer than it should’ve to write my first story from beginning to end, just because of how frustrated I’d get with the quality of the prose and the rhythm of the sentences. Had I pushed through more often, I would have improved more quickly. But who knows, maybe it’s also important to write and discard a bunch of silly fragments.

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Can you tell us about your writing routine and how you approach the creative process? What does a typical writing day look like for you? 

I’m not sure that I actually have much of a writing routine to speak of! I was more disciplined about it during the first two years of the pandemic and always tried to get down at least 500 words each day. Now, my process is very scattershot.

I tend to be more productive when I’m given outside pressures or deadlines, which has made adjusting to the post-MFA life somewhat difficult. I wish I was one of those writers who can wake up early and just bang out multiple pages, but it can sometimes take me a week to finish a single paragraph. I edit meticulously as I write, which means that each sentence usually takes much longer than it should. My best writing hours are from 6-11 p.m.

I maintain a nice workspace at home, but I also like to write in public places, such as libraries, cafes, and bars, as long as they have appealing interiors. I can’t get work done in ugly or bland environments. There’s a really stunning little public library in my neighborhood with painted ceilings and elegant wooden furniture everywhere, and I’ve been spending more time there lately.

I’d like to write by hand more often, especially to get away from the constant distractions of the internet, but my thoughts come out more fluidly when I’m using a keyboard. I type 130 words per minute, which means I sometimes type faster than I think. 

If you could have a conversation with an author throughout history about their writing routine and creative process, who would that person be?

I’m always interested in learning about other writers’ routines, but they rarely have any bearing on my own precarious habits, unfortunately. Still, I’d probably choose Salinger, mostly because he seemed to practice an almost religious devotion to his craft, shutting everything else out.

I don’t think that’s a good or a healthy thing, but I’d love to know more about what his writing rituals looked like. That extreme level of privacy naturally begs curiosity. I read his daughter’s memoir, Dream Catcher, a few years ago, and she described how his zealous attitude toward writing sort of cast a veil over the entire family, isolating them from the rest of the world. 

I’m also generally curious about the writing processes of multilingual authors. I studied French and Japanese in college and, though I never achieved fluency in either language, I loved the way sentences would sometimes occur to me with the combined grammatical structures of all three languages. I like the idea of applying the vocabulary of one language to the cadence of another. Lydia Davis writes beautifully about the act of translation in some of her short stories—she makes me want to spend time with French again. 

I’d love to know about the books you’re reading at the moment. What have been some of your favorite reads?

There are too many favorites to list, so I’ll just mention some recent memorable reads: The Book of Goose by Yiyun Li, Hunting Party by Agnès Desarthe, The Changeling by Joy Williams, Bark by Lorrie Moore, and Bliss Montage by Ling Ma. I’m most partial to prose that is cold, humorous, rhythmic, and precise, and I like stories that walk the fine line between magic/absurdity and stark realism. 

Joy Williams wrote a list of “Eight Essential Attributes of the Short Story,” which I tend to default to when describing what I look for in a short story or novel. I especially love numbers 1 (“There should be a clean clear surface with much disturbance below”) and 4 (“An animal within to give its blessing”). 

What does your current writing workspace look like?

I tend to associate brilliant writers with really messy, chaotic workspaces, which must mean that I’m decidedly unbrilliant, because I stay tidy to a fault. I like a nice, clean desk with little pops of green, as it makes me feel like I’m outdoors, i.e., not cooped up inside staring at a screen.

I usually keep a stack of books I’m currently reading to my left with a row of other “useful” books on nearby wall shelving. (“Useful” here means books which inform whatever I’m currently working on.) My Leuchtturm1917 planner is also always by my side. 

After completing my M.F.A. this past summer, I moved from Virginia to Los Angeles, and the move gave me the opportunity to upgrade my workspace a little. It’s just a small corner of the bedroom I share with my boyfriend, but it still feels like my little slice of heaven. I should start hanging some stuff on the walls sooner or later, though. 

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