About Soil

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In my ever-expanding exploration of the literary magazine world, I got a subscription to Carve Magazine. In the print edition of the magazine, they include an interview with each author in which they discuss the story itself, as well as their life as a writer. Each story includes some fast facts about the story process, a behind-the-scenes look at the story. Other magazines do similar things, so I thought I’d give you the behind-the-scenes skinny on Soil, which was recently published over at Hamilton Stone Review.

Fast facts

First draft written: Winter 2011
Number of drafts: Lost count, but at least 5
Number of rejections: 5
From submission to publication: 2 months.
First fiction publication: No.

The idea

For the record, I did not push my mother off the front of a wagon. My grandparents did own a farm where my siblings and I worked most summers. The story started with the memory of sitting in a certain spot on the farm when I was very young. It was in the shade and on the top of the hill, a piece of land that’s now owned by the Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky International Airport.

The dirt there really was sandy and fine, almost like a powder and I have a very vivid memory of being left on the blanket to play while everyone else was in the field, working.

At about the time I wrote the first draft of this story, the community garden had just started up in Madison. Driving up to the garden plot early in the morning really took me back to being on the farm and made me think about my grandmother and great-grandmother and their lives.

When I was growing up, their farm was a truck farm, which meant they grew produce to take to a farmer’s market in Cincinnati. Sometimes on the weekends, and especially in the fall during pumpkin and apple cider season, we’d set up a stand there on the farm.

tractorMy great-grandmother really did fall off the wagon once, though no one pushed her and I wasn’t there to see it. A great-uncle was buried by a tractor wheel and killed; his wife found him. We were always warned to be careful of the tractor, the sorter, the digger. Farming is dangerous. I never understood when hippy kids in college said they wanted to go live on a farm like it was going to Disneyworld.

I was on sabbatical in 2008 when I started this story, and doing interviews with farmers in the area. I was thinking a lot about the loss of farming as a way of life and about my own connection to that past.

The writing

Soil is in second person, which is weird and many people will tell you should never be done. I don’t think it started out that way, but at some point I changed it because it just felt right. I thought several times about re-writing it so that it wasn’t in second person, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. I might have also just read Stewart O’Nan’s amazing novel in second person, A Prayer for the Dying.

As with every, single thing I write, the story started out much longer. Cutting always makes things better.

The setting

I wrote much of this story sitting at the bar at the 605 Grille, during that brief and golden window when they were open for breakfast. Writing with a steaming cup of cappuccino and their Greek yogurt with walnuts and honey was divine. There’s no public wi-fi there, which was also quite a blessing. Other parts were edited at the coffee shop and on the couch in our kitchen.

The who

My husband, as he does with everything I write, read a draft of Soil and told me it was wonderful. Send it out now, he said. But before I did, I sent a copy to my mother, who also did not push anyone off a wagon, but whose parents owned the farm that inspired the story. She asked, “Do you really think about that stuff?” And the answer is yes, of course, because there is very little stuff writers do not think about.

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