1. You classify yourself as a weird writer. What draws you to the weird? What about that (small w) weird fiction is so engaging to you as a writer and a reader?
Weird with a small w is part of the picture, but no single descriptor ever seems to entirely cover what I’m up to… Genre-bending, dark, weird (with a small w), surreal, sometimes experimental and often non-linear are all part of the mix. At its heart I’m interested in stories that surprise me and characters that have more depth and dimension than is required by any plot. I want to feel I’m immersed in a reality that I’ve never experienced before. And all those literary techniques and genre tropes? I want to see them subverted and put to unexpected use. I’m a bit of a bunny when it comes to reading. I’m easily bored and can get rather impatient. I bounce off move novels and collections than I finish. But when I fall, I fall hard. Some writing just makes me swoon.
2. Your short story collection UNCOMMON MIRACLES is a gorgeously wrought marriage of science and religion. It is truly the essence of your work. How much research do you do for a story? How much time do you spend on each piece?
Thank you, Jordan! I’m thrilled you liked it so much! Science and religion just keep creeping in. It’s not intentional, though I do truly love science and the excitement of learning yet more wild-but-are-you-kidding-me-true facts. In terms of fiction, I’m a world-immersive writer. I want to drown you in a sense of place, and that requires details. Which is laborious.
Each story can take months if not years to pull all the elements together. For example, I spent hours of research on the various breeds of rabbits only to end up with a phrase or two about rabbit breeds in my story “Everyone Gets a Happy Ending.” I spent weeks of time research the Azores Archipelago, the setting of “Idle Hands,” and then moved on to parthenogenesis, the hospitals of Boston, and details around heron use. If it were just for the telling details, I might not be quite so driven, but it’s in those unearthed facts that new ideas are sparked. The story is molded and remolded by what I know. To me “write what you know” always means I need to learn more.
I tend to write a partial draft, set it aside for months, discover an additional element, and eventually (iteratively) find my way to the story’s final form. It is a very start-stop-start process. And, yes, I am most ridiculous!
3. Can you talk a little bit about why you chose to marry science and religion in this particular way?
I think it has something to do with my personal view of the world. While organized religion draws many people, it makes me feel tense and rather antsy. I don’t like being told how things “are.” I’m rather…independent.
I also spent a chunk of my childhood in the Bible Belt where religion felt like a socially acceptable way to exclude, limit, and stridently demand: as a nerdy, dreamy girl it definitely wasn’t a nurturing environment. At the same time, I have a strong sense of wonder about the world we live in. Humanity’s physical limitations severely curtail how much we perceive of our environment. Even our concept of this universe is some extremely inexact, human-filtered scribble. In some Julie-specific way, I find the mystery our unknowable physical world is married to the spiritual solace many find in their religious beliefs. They kinda just seem to go together…
4. The collection is bookended so beautifully with two stories that almost mirror each other. How did you choose to stagger the stories that came between them?
Oh, I wish I could pretend it was a carefully spreadsheeted event! But, come on, I’m a writer who lets the whims of my unconscious and its dream-logic steer things, so of course I let my “gut feeling” rule the order of the collection. I read each story and decided if it still resonated with me. Did it feel strong? This was a quick process. Anything that didn’t immediately scream yes was out.
The sequence was a *bit* more analytically considered While I think all of my stories carry a certain “Julie” voice, I do write in different modes. I tried to alternate the shorter, more experimental pieces with the more traditional story arcs. And because I’m 1) not entirely crazy and 2) have some amazing and generous writing friends, I sanity checked my final sequence before sending the collection out.
5. My favorite story here was "The Thirteen Tuesdays of Saint Anthony," where the narrator slowly ekes out in the structure until they dominate it. There are several stories in this collection that play with structure and point of view in this way. Can you talk about your process with this?
Ha! Yes, structure, process, POV. Why do I make it all so complicated?! I’m a nonlinear but analytical thinker. And I don’t enjoy repetition. I get so excited by the new things I learn while researching a story. It’s one of the joys of writing. In that same way, playing with structure is actually pretty natural for me. It’s fun. I’m just so delighted by the experience of puzzling it all out. It’s the linear that I find challenging.
At the heart of each of my stories is an experience I want the reader to have, an emotional experience. Everything, including structure, is in service to that goal.
6. Several of the stories in UNCOMMON MIRACLES concern mental illness and suicide. Can you unpack that a little for me?
I believe we are all broken people. Life is hard—emotionally hard—at various points in everyone’s lives. For some people the scars and wounds are more obvious, but they are always there. More than that, our personal reality is tied to our most heightened emotions and our most vulnerable selves. The dark heart within each of us. For me that individual dark heart is closer to reality than any consensus view. Being able to express that darkness through a character and bring it to the surface in a story is part of what, for me, makes writing such a compelling process.
That’s one aspect.
The other aspect is my own struggles with depression and anxiety and the long road I’ve taken in learning how to manage it. I am so much better than I was a decade ago. But there’s a chasm I’ve visited many times. And honestly, in ways that seem better expressed through the stories themselves, I find there’s an energy that I’m channeling when I write that is tied to that chasm.
7. What's next for Julie C. Day?
I feel like this is the year I’m once again tackling long. I completed a standalone novella last year that is currently out on submission. I learned a lot from the experience, but it really was brutal. At the same time, I keep bouncing off my pile of short stories waiting to be finished, despite the heat I can feel rising up from them.
There’s an idea ascribed to the writer George Saunders. Writing a short story is like building a yurt. Writing a novel is exactly the same thing, you just build seven yurts instead of one. For me what made writing that first novella so brutal was forcing myself into a traditional linear, three-act structure, or at least as much of one as I could handle.
I’ve recently had an epiphany, as expressed by George Saunders and his yurts. I really don’t have to do that. It’s possible to just lean in to what I do best and use those same short story skills for a longer piece. Letters, multiple POVs, scraps of ephemera, manifestos, lists, straight-up narrative. It’s all fair game. I finally figured out that no one is preventing me from doing what I find exciting except me…