Interview With Author Liz Kellebrew
Tell us about yourself and how many books you have written.
I’ve lived in western Washington my whole life, and the landscape here comes out in the things I write. This is such a special place: we have mountains and high desert, beaches and temperate rain forests, estuaries, rivers, and fjords, and the rain keeps our trees green. I recently volunteered for Kitsap Salmon Tours as a docent and learned a lot about our local salmonids.
I was homeschooled in a working-class family and fortunate to have parents and grandparents who read to me from a young age. I started writing because I loved reading, or rather, I loved stories, and I wanted to create some of my own. I’ve written short fiction and prose poetry that’s published or forthcoming in four anthologies, and I have nature essays, poems, hybrid work, and other short fiction published in several journals.
I have nine (and a half) book manuscripts (mostly short story collections), but I’m most excited about Unsolicited Press publishing my debut poetry book.
What is the name of your latest book and what inspired it?
Water Signs was largely inspired by my commutes across Puget Sound on Washington State Ferries. I wanted to write something on the boat ride and I didn’t have any lofty conceptual ideas like I sometimes get for my stories, so I decided to start writing about what I was experiencing, both on the ferry and on the walking portions of my commute. A year of that and I realized I had enough poetry for a book.
Do you have any unusual writing habits?
I grew up writing in my notebook in my parents’ car when we’d go for drives in the countryside. I still love writing from a moving vehicle, becoming particularly productive on boats or planes. Something about the expansive scenery expands my mind.
Similarly, when I’m writing at home or elsewhere, I like to write by a window so I can stare outside for a while, especially if I can look at trees. Writing often comes to me in images while I’m doing this. I’ll see scenes in my head like clips from a movie.
During the COVID pandemic, I missed being able to go to coffee shops and write, so I bought a coffee-scented candle for my home writing space. The smell of freshly ground coffee inspires me!
What authors, or books have influenced you?
There are so many that I love. I think it’s safe to say that every book I’ve read has influenced me in some way. Even the books I didn’t like helped me realize what it was that I did like.
For now, I’ll list a few favorites that come to mind. Bruno Schulz, The Street of Crocodiles and Other Stories. These stories, written by a Polish Jewish artist who was killed by Nazis for walking in the “wrong” part of town to get a loaf of bread, are so unutterably vivid and strange, like waking dreams that are equal parts beautiful and terrible. His prose helped me understand that it is possible to write in images and still write compelling work.
Also influential: Can Xue’s Dialogues in Paradise (stories) and Frontier (novel). She’s a Chinese avant-garde fiction writer whose surreal work evokes deep, almost subconscious reactions in me. I also aspire to write fiction like Clarice Lispector and Sjon, and moving poetry like Ilya Kaminsky, Nazim Hikmet, and Mary Oliver.
What are you working on now?
Lately I’ve been writing nature essays with some memoir woven in. There’s one out in the Spring 2022 issue of Catamaran that talks about Mt. St. Helens, eulachon smelt, and my experiences growing up near the Cowlitz River during the twilight of the old-growth logging industry in Washington State. I have two more forthcoming in Lime Hawk and Gaia Lit. The first essay is about ferries, jellyfish and pollution in Puget Sound, and father-daughter relationships. The second essay is an in-depth look at wildfires and their effects on the forests of the western Cascade Mountains, with some historical context from my grandfather’s early childhood experiences.
Of course, I’m still writing poems. I’m also expanding a short story about a golem into something longer. Will it become a book? Time will tell.
What is your best method or website when it comes to promoting your books?
I’m a newbie when it comes to book promotion. My current work has a local focus, so I’ve been reaching out to local bookstores and libraries about stocking the book and I’m also actively seeking book reviewers. I try to keep Twitter and my author website up to date.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
Get out of your head and engage with the real world once in a while. It’s good for both your well-being and your writing.
Oh, and don’t take any advice that you wouldn’t give.
What is the best advice you have ever heard?
I believe everyone has something to teach me, so I’ve collected a lot of advice over the years and it’s hard to pick just one. How about this: Damien Echols was a featured speaker in my MFA program, and he talked about how you can improve your art by working on yourself. It reminded me of Tolstoy’s quote, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”
What are you reading now?
Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch. I’m halfway through and once again astounded by how she structures her work. It’s like peering into a complex clockwork mechanism where each part seems to move independently but creates something bigger and more complete out of the whole. And in classic Lidia style, it is visceral and deeply felt in the body. I feel both grounded and like I’m floating when I read her work.
What’s next for you as a writer?
At this point I get grumpy if I don’t write, so I guess I’ll be doing more writing. I believe art grows organically from life, so I won’t try to predict what the future will hold. Just show up and do the work.
If you were going to be stranded on a desert island and allowed to take 3 or 4 books with you what books would you bring?
Assuming that I would be responsible for my own survival, I’d bring some kind of survivalist handbook.
After that, it’s all about entertainment value, things I can come back to again and again. Maybe Calvino’s Italian Folktales—that’s quite a tome. Zaehringer’s Sorry I Ruined Your Childhood is a comic strip collection that never fails to amuse me. And since I’m being forced to choose no more than 4 books out of the many I adore, I have to say the fourth one would be a blank book (and several pens). Whether I survive or not, I intend to get a book out of it!
Author Websites and Profiles
Liz Kellebrew’s Social Media Links