What is your most recent writing project/what is a piece you’ve had published recently?
My most recent published book is What Becomes Us, a novel which was named a top ten Apocalypse book by the Guardian.
I just finished a book of linked short stories, True Love and Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape, which comes out in October, and I am now working on a book of nonfiction, a literary memoir called The Book of Changes.
What’s your favorite thing someone else has said about your writing?
I really love the writer Debra Earling’s quote about my novel, because she compared it to one of my favorite writers, Shirley Jackson: “Every once in a while a book not only takes us on a journey, it transports us. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had fully entered this world. The characters are so finely drawn, the story so well told—I felt as if I was carrying a candle through a landscape haunted by Shirley Jackson. A little bit gothic, wonderfully strange, delightfully spooky. A unique love story nested in a Pandora’s box of wonder. What Becomes Us is bedazzling. ”
What is one craft or writing book you love?
I don’t love any writing books, but I do love some essays about writing very, very much. I go back to these essays again and again both in my teaching and for myself: George Orwell’s "Why I Write", Raymond Carver’s "On Writing," Donald Barthelme’s "Not Knowing," Joan Didion’s "Why I Write," Anne Lamott’s "Shitty First Drafts," Ursula Leguin’s essays, Brett Lott’s "Towards a Definition of Creative Non-Fiction," and Patricia Hampl’s essay on Augustine.
Who is one other writer you’re excited about right now?
So, right now I’m really excited about visions of utopia. I just finished Octavia Butler’s Lilith’s Brood, about the mixing of species to create a new kind of human without hierarchical tendencies, Ursula Le Guin’s anarchist utopian novel The Dispossessed, and George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, in which he describes the all too brief anarchist utopia established in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War.
What’s the worst writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What’s the best?
I think one of the most pernicious ideas about writing is ‘write what you know.’ That advice completely discounts imagination as well as the primary reason to write—because you don’t know. I would say, ‘Write to know.’ Write to come to some kind of mediated but profound understanding. Best advice? Maybe from my teacher Alison Lurie, who told me that sometimes it’s best just to say what you mean, directly, simply, rather than somersaulting and backflipping around the page. Another teacher at Cornell where I went, A. R. Ammons, said once, “The only thing that ever helped me was praise.” I love that because it’s funny, and has some real truth to it as well.
Do you have a dedicated work space? Do you write in your home or do you prefer to write elsewhere? Can you write while traveling?
Right now I’m on sabbatical in Europe. I’ve been writing in small apartments, on the bed or on the couch with my laptop on my lap, or in cafes, hyped up on too much coffee.
What are some of your writing habits?
Now, I’m writing pretty much every day. I try to advance a project rather than count the hours. Like, I want to finish this project by this date. That works best for me.
When you are sitting down to write, what is the first thing you do?
Sadly, check my email.
How do you pay the bills/financially support yourself?
I’m a professor at University of California, Santa Cruz.
When in your life have you felt your work/life balance to be most in sync? When in your life have you felt the most out of sync?
The times I’ve been happiest in my life in terms of my writing are at writing retreats or on this sabbatical, when I really have time to think and write. But, conversely, another time of great happiness for me was working as a summer camp counselor when I didn’t do any writing. I think I love immersive experiences. I don’t like to multitask. I like to concentrate. I am most happy by a lake or in a lake or kayaking on a lake.
What are the most pressing demands for your time, energy, labor (including emotional labor)? What has worked best for you in terms of balancing those demands with writing?
For most of my life it has been my children and my job, in that order. Right now, my children are grown up and living away from me and I’m on hiatus from my job, so my only pressing demand is my writing, a great luxury.
Do you have any writing rituals? Or any non-writing rituals that feed your writing life?
It’s important for me to exercise, every day if possible. I’m most happy if I can write, read, and exercise every day, though that’s not something that actually happens every day, it does happen many days.
Micah Perks is the author of a memoir and two novels, including most recently the award-winning novel What Becomes Us. Her short stories and essays have been published in Tin House, Epoch, Lit Hub, the Rumpus, the Kenyon Review on-line, and many others; and her stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize five times. True Love and Other Dreams of Miraculous Escape, a book of linked short stories, will be out in October. She is the co-director of the creative writing program at University of California, Santa Cruz.