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Interview with Audrey Stimson: Q4 2022 Creative Nonfiction Contest Third Place Winnter


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Audrey’s Bio: Audrey grew up on two continents hopscotching between Europe and the United States from an early age as part of a foreign service officer’s family. She continued to move her body through space for decades while pursuing a career in television, before finally settling in California. With a suitcase full of stories about her adventures in the far corners of the globe, she decided one day, not too long ago, to sit down and write. The writing was a way to process the questions because there are always questions. She sometimes writes poetry but finds creative non-fiction the best way to connect to herself and the world around her. 

Sometimes her creativity makes her draw, sew, and even dabble in producing short animated films. She enjoys bicycle touring with her husband, walks with her two dogs, sailing on a 50-year-old boat, forest bathing, and exploring the small forgotten towns across America. 

When she is not writing, she works as a television news producer for a German network, still traveling and still looking for that elusive thing called the truth. 

She has just finished a memoir about looking at the hard truths about yourself while on an epic coast-to-coast bicycle ride across the United States. 

Come visit her at her website audreystimson.com, or better yet sample some of her other writing on her Medium page. 

If you haven't done so already, check out Audrey's award-winning story "Unpopped Popcorn" and then return here for a chat with the author. 

WOW: Congratulations on placing third in the Q4 2022 Creative Nonfiction Contest! How did you begin writing your essay and how did it and your writing processes evolve as you wrote? 

Audrey: I began this essay as an experiment. It was a way that I could learn how to get into the mindset of someone writing a memoir. I wanted to go way back and embody a moment in time that was long ago and very far away from where I am now in my life. To do this, I used a trick I learned in a writing class that taught me how to use a muse to go back in time. I became that child or young college student in this case, and I let her guide me with her story. I left everything I know now about myself today disappear so that I could be that girl I was at that moment. I started the processes by pacing around the room for a few minutes to transform myself. I let myself become her before I even get to the blank page. Then after she enters me, I write and let whatever comes out come out. I usually don't edit my writing for at least a few days or weeks. I let it sit, then come back to it to find the gems that tell her story and delete the rest. 

WOW: What a marvelous drafting technique! I imagine it could be difficult to get in the right mindset to become a different person or a different version of the self, but the results can be stunning. What did you learn about yourself or your writing by creating this essay? 

Audrey: I learned that it's best to trust the process. Writing becomes a magical event that comes from a deeper place inside me. To let the magic happen, you have to release it by putting down words that tell the truth of who you are in order to get closer to the story of your life. The authenticity of experience is what I am looking for in my writing. How does it really feel to live your life? The words jump out when I have the courage to write the truth. It feels like a release of something I have been holding back. Because I have always played it safe in my life, I am now pushing the hard edges of me. Writing has freed me to laugh and dance and cry on the page when in real life I live behind a wall of professionalism that silences all of that. My writing experience is more about the heart than the mind. The mind comes later when I edit. 

WOW: Thank you for sharing so much insight into your creative process. You wrote a memoir about your "epic coast-to-coast bicycle ride across the United States." That sounds amazing! Can you tell us a bit about your process writing on this topic? 

Audrey: The book became a vehicle I used to give myself permission to be a writer. I silenced myself for most of my life because of the strange circumstances of my upbringing. My father was a CIA officer, and all of my family had to live in his lie. My mother was a survivor of the bombing raids in Berlin at the end of World War II. In the book, I worked through many layers of inherited trauma as well as my own lived trauma working as a television news journalist. All of these worlds collide on the pages of the book Across the American Dream. 

The book not only documents the adventures of the bicycle ride and places the reader right there on the bike with me, it is also an unraveling my past in order to make sense of who I am, or who I thought I was. It is strange like a coming-of-age story but for a middle-aged woman. The book is also a guide through many of the broken, forgotten small towns of America that nobody sees, and those broken bits become tools that help me see myself while doing the hard things like riding a bicycle 3700 miles. The process was cathartic and freeing. By finally going deep I am revealed on the page and that’s pretty cool. 

WOW: Wow, what amazing adventures, both the trip across country and being able to write about it. Which creative nonfiction essays or writers have inspired you most, and in what ways did they inspire you? 

Audrey: Reading poetry, literary fiction, and nonfiction has been enormously helpful to me. I read slowly and cherish a well-formed sentence. One of the nonfiction writers who recently inspired me is Cynthia Cruz and her essay “Steady Diet of Nothing.” The essay moved me as it touches on a certain nihilism of youth that many Gen Xers like myself felt while growing up. She describes an innocence wrapped inside harsh circumstances of poverty and aimlessness with a poetic passion that places you there. 

I also enjoy the poetry of Annie Dillard's lines and recently enjoyed reading An American Childhood. Her ability to place the reader deep inside time and place is something that moves me. Annie’s lines are like taking a slow river cruise as it snakes through her childhood in that book. She uses our natural surrounding as characters in her work to bring us into place with such vivid details it becomes three dimensional. Just pick up her Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and read the magic. 

I enjoy reading works about the existential angst of moving through life. What does it really feel like? Take me there. The flow of words needs to move me and hold me on to page while describing the ordinary in extraordinary ways. 

I just read Annie Ernaux's A Woman's Life, a wonderful memoir about how a daughter reflects on her mother's life after she dies. The book spells out the writer's pain of loss so well. It is both distant in the objectivity of someone grieving and at the same time is incredibly intimate. I really enjoyed her skillful use of truncated sentences which really makes you feel her grief at the start of the book. By using factual, almost list like descriptions of what happened when her mother died, she places us in that somber denial of the first stages of grieving. 

WOW: Excellent list of literature. Thanks for those recommendations! If you could tell your younger self anything about writing, what would it be? 

Audrey: That's simple. I would say write, write, write, and don't be afraid to get your words out there. The silencing, whether it is self-imposed or societal, is something we all need to overcome. Doing the hard stuff is well worth it. For me, the hard stuff was pushing through the membrane of the cone of silence I lived in. I wish I had started writing and publishing earlier. But it's never too late. Everybody has a story to tell, so write it down. 

WOW: I love that advice. Thank you! Anything else you'd like to add? 

Audrey: This essay is the first piece of work I have ever submitted to anyone in my life. I hope this will inspire other people to have the courage to do the same, no matter how old you are. 

WOW: That is amazing! Thank you for sharing your writing with us and for your thoughtful responses. Happy writing! 


Interviewed by Anne Greenawalt, founder and editor-in-chief of Sport Stories Press, which publishes sports books by, for, and about sportswomen and amateur athletes and offers developmental editing and ghostwriting services to partially fund the press. Engage on Twitter or Instagram @GreenMachine459.

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