“Untangling the Knot” Author Casey Plett on Small Press Publishing and the Art of Writing

Ooligan Press will release Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships & Identity in February of this year. What began as an anthology of queer narratives from the Pacific Northwest has become a nationwide collection that explore the concepts of marriage equality as it comes to a head in the national political dialogue. In her essay, “Days of the Phoenix and the Emerald City,” Winnipeg author Casey Plett writes about attending high school in Eugene while in the midst of coming out. She was kind enough to take a break from her busy schedule to answer my questions about place, small press publishing, and writing.

What compelled you to contribute to Ooligan Press’s forthcoming anthology, Untangling the Knot?

What compelled me to contribute? The fact that it was a queer Pacific Northwest anthology, actually! I have so many feelings about the Pacific Northwest and how the uniqueness of the time and place I existed in it affected my coming out (for better and worse), and was hoping to read and be a part of others who might have similar feel[ing]s. Now it’s different, of course, though I’m pretty stoked to read some of the non-PNW authors’ pieces in it, so hooray all around.

Your essay takes place largely in Eugene, where you went to high school. How does place figure into your writing?

I’ve personally moved around a lot in my life and feel very conscious about what degree place is or is not identified in my writing . . . the essay in the book is probably the first time I’ve written anything where place is front and center rather than just this thing in the background. And I think I wanna keep it that way, haha. I had a lot of things about Eugene that I needed to say at some point in time and I’m grateful this book’s let me do that, like, in print! But I dunno if I wanna write like that again.

You now live in Winnipeg. Is there a difference between writing in Winnipeg and writing in Eugene? How is the scene or atmosphere different?

Writing in Winnipeg is great. As Chandra Mayor (who, uncoincidentally, has written some of my favorite pieces of fiction that take place in Winnipeg) says, “it’s really hard for someone to get too big for their britches” in this city. With the exception of grad school though, I’ve never really had much of a “writing community” that was physically present around me, so I dunno if I can speak to that aspect too heavily.

You published a collection of short stories, A Safe Girl to Love with Topside Press. What was that small press publishing experience like?

Great, Topside does such good work and just wants to do a good job. I don’t have a lot to compare it to though, obviously.

You’ve had both nonfiction and fiction pieces published. Did your experience with publishers change with the genre?

I got my publishing start writing nonfiction when I won a columnist contest for the McSweeney’s website four years ago, and I actually went to grad school specifically to write nonfiction. I definitely have different feelings about doing either. One thing that’s funny is that with publishing fiction, I’ve found people really, really want that shit to be true. And they want to know what’s true and what actually happened. In terms of editorial stuff, it’s definitely a different process . . . I’m gonna use a simplistic and cheesy analogy maybe: Nonfiction feels kinda like sculpting, where I have this big faceless block of matter (i.e. the truth of shit that happened) and I have to pick and scrape and chisel it into something that has shape and texture and definition and meaning and maybe is pretty or something. But it’s taking something huge that already exists and whittling it down into something small. Fiction feels like the reverse, I guess? Where there is this blank thing and I have to build it from the ground up out of nothing essentially. I had a few years where the sculpting-out-of-something felt more natural and conducive to what I wanted to write, and in the last few years making something out of the blank thing felt better. I’ll probably always write nonfiction in some capacity, but firing feelings into the blank thing feels like what I want to be doing for now.

What are you working on now?

Fiction, mostly. I hate talking about what I’m working on as I’m doing it though! I feel like I get all mixed up when I start mouthing about what I’m trying to get out of my head.

Be sure to pick up a copy of Casey’s book of short stories, A Safe Girl to Love available from Topside Press, a small press in New York City that focuses on publishing authentic transgender narratives; and look out for Ooligan’s Untangling the Knot, which hits shelves next month.

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