Erica Plouffe Lazure radiates energy. She is the calm, kind, and vibrant teacher I want to be when I grow up. These same qualities shine through her fiction writing.
Erica and I met when she was the Bennett Fellow (writer in residence) during my senior year of high school at Phillips Exeter Academy. Early on in the year she read a short story called “The Red Thread” to the school in Assembly. I couldn’t stop thinking about the story for days, and finally decided to take a chance and email Erica to compliment her work and see if we could meet. I was hooked by the way she spun the tale. We have been friends ever since, occasionally offering comments on each other’s work. I am so grateful to have her as a friend and mentor!
DKL: What inspired you to start writing? When did it happen?
EPL: When I was younger, I wrote mostly journal entries, and random poems or funny notes to amuse my friends. But a teacher—Ms. Sally Byrne—told me one day I was a “natural writer” and I took it to heart. I went on to study journalism in college, and went straight into newspaper reporting after a brief stint at an ad agency. While both of those jobs were writing, they weren’t the right profession for me, but—especially with journalism—they taught me how to observe, how to listen, how to pay attention to how people talk, how to find and shape a story, and how to meet deadlines.
DKL: How to listen… yes! What do you hope for your students?
EPL: I have taught high school for the past five years, and my hope is that each of my students discovers how to trust themselves, and their voices, through creativity, whether it be through writing or through visual arts or sciences or math or music. I hope they forge a path for themselves that will enable them to be compassionate toward others (and to themselves) and learn how to become effective storytellers. As a teacher of writing (and as an avid reader) I think it’s key that my students learn how to express themselves in effective, convincing ways. They can pursue any field they want, but if they don’t learn the power of the narrative and of effectively communicating their stories, they could miss out on opportunities to someone who does know how to tell a story.
DKL: Why do you write? How are music and writing connected in your work?
EPL: There are too many untold stories, too many ideas rattling around in my head for me not to something with them. It’s great when some little bit of truth hits you, and instead of letting it dissolve into the ether, you can actually do something with it. When I was younger, I wanted to be a visual artist (still do!) but I decided when I went to graduate school that I had to commit myself to writing, so some of my other artistic interests (collage, photography) have fallen to the wayside. Except for music—I started writing around the same time I started learning how to play the guitar, and I discovered that if writing was a refuge from the world, then music was a refuge from my writing. I feel so attuned to the way sound can help to reset the cells of your body, bring you back in alignment with yourself. Sometimes when I write myself into a corner, I grab my guitar, play a song or two, and return to the story, ready to take it in an unanticipated direction. Somehow it loosens my perspective on the story’s possibilities.
DKL: Love it. We all need that kind of break––a loosening––to get back into words. A movement from one discipline and back into another. Speaking of movement, how has travel influenced your writing?
EPL: Traveling through the sensory explosions of Nepal or India or Bali or China, you have to become hyper aware of where you are. Where even the lettering on the street signs is different, you can’t rely on your regular means of surviving for getting around. It’s almost a survival instinct, becoming this aware of who you are and what you notice. When you travel solo, it’s more or less a crash course in becoming a writer (so long as you take the time to write while you are on the road). If you don’t catch it in the moment, I guarantee it’ll be lost. I wrote a daily journal while I was in Nepal and Bali, and still return to them on occasion to capture my mindset during that time.
DKL: Who inspires you?
EPL: I have been saddened to learn of the recent passing of Masaru Emoto—here is someone who used his background in the sciences to help us understand how our environment is shaped by the vibrations within it. That he could track negativity and love and musical notes through the freezing process of water had been a bit of an awakening for me, in terms of how I carry myself and the attitude that I project into the world. Because of him, I try to be a positive influence and presence in each arena of my life, in the hope that I can help to create more love and light in the world. And I thank Masaru Emoto for calling my attention to that kind of awareness on the most cellular, visceral level. The energy we project into the world can either help or hinder those around us, and my aim is to always err (when possible) on the side of help.
DKL: What are you reading right now?
EPL: Ahh, the life of a schoolteacher! I flip between the New Yorker, several flash fiction and flash non-fiction anthologies, Bob Shacochis’ wonderful The Woman Who Lost her Soul, various literary journals, and (this fall, with my classes) Othello and Merchant of Venice. It’s been fascinating reading two Shakespeare plays concurrently, the overlap of imagery, similar themes of risks, of ships and shipwrecks, of men devolving into beasts… fascinating stuff. Right now I’m reading In Cold Blood and As I Lay Dying. Looking forward to reading Megan Mayhew Bergman’s compelling Almost Famous Women in the next few months, too.
DKL: What projects are you working on?
EPL: These days I write lots of comments on my students’ papers. But when I’m not doing that, I ping pong between writing and editing short or flash fiction stories and the novel I’ve been tinkering with for the past few years. In February 2014, I wrote a story a day for 28 days, and managed to produce from it a flash fiction collection, Heard Around Town, which will be released by Arcadia Press in July 2015. The upshot of having these stories published is, well, they’ll be published! The downside is that I have to write some new short stories.
DKL: Wow––how did you keep up the momentum to write 28 stories consecutively? Were some of the ideas latent beforehand, or did you draw on completely new material?
EPL: All the material generated was brand-new, created that day, on the spot. My partner and I exchanged writing prompts every single morning, and we’d use them as the launch point for whatever story would surface from it that day, and to keep ourselves accountable, we’d swap stories when they were finished. So for example, one of my prompts was “Summerhaven” (taken from a street sign). I turned it into a band name, and a story was born (and eventually published by Smokelong Quarterly). Or a leaflet advertising a Hare Krishna gathering found on the floor of a classroom became “Hare Krishna” published by Monkeybicycle. Two other stories from the collection, “Foreclosure” (prompt: Norwegian, Floor Polish) and “Dandelions” (with bonus postcard!) are now up at Wigleaf. The momentum, somehow, felt very natural—I hadn’t written creatively in a while and the flash pieces seemed both do-able and spontaneous. It allowed me to investigate an idea and then move on to something else—no need to polish (although I love to polish so I did). About 20 days in, it hit me that I was writing all the pieces in the first person, in a kind of “confessional” tone, and it struck me that the stories could in some way be linked. During my break in March, I dove into what became the Heard Around Town manuscript and did the heavy editing and arranging then. I hope to revive the daily writing practice this February, and ride out the winter term with energy and creativity (rather than cabin fever!).
DKL: Do you have any stories related to water or climate change that you would like to share?
EPL: There are hundreds of stories about being in the water—the bioluminescence that glowed like a tiny constellation around my footfall one night in Ocracoke; the summer I spent overcoming my fear of swimming by swimming across Puffer’s Pond in Amherst, MA, every day after work. But I would say that snorkeling in the reefs of St John and Vieques is the closest I’ve ever come to the feeling of flying, of weightlessness, of feeling completely in the moment, all thanks to water. Somewhere between the deep breathing required of the snorkel and the constant movement of your fins, and the visual buffet at your disposal, snorkeling has, hands down, provided me with the most in-the-moment, here-and-now experience, ever. Even more than yoga. You need to be vigilant in the water, of course—I once crossed paths with a shark (from a distance, but still… a shark, right?)—which brought me into a rather uncomfortable awareness of immediacy (as in, get out of the water right now!). But the shark was far more interested in the spotted eagle rays that kept leaping out of the water every few minutes. More recently, I saw a live octopus, in the wild, which had been a longtime goal of mine. They are shape shifters, as you may know, and for all the days I’d spent in the water, I’d never seen one (but wanted to believe I had, only it was in disguise). But this octopus, spotted in Vieques, PR, was undulating under a reef, and proved to be as interested in me as I was in it, and decided to investigate a bit more as it ventured out from under the reef, turned bone white—the color of the sand—then settled onto a rock, blending perfectly into the rock. It hid so well my snorkel partner couldn’t even see it until he dove further down toward the rock, causing the octopus to disembark from the rock, then sprawl up against the reef, turn violet white as all eight limbs curled out in a perfect octopus shape, then disappeared in a crevice in the reef. It felt like magic. Earlier in the week, I had asked the ocean to show me an octopus and on the very last day—on Thanksgiving morning, our last day on the island—it complied. I was never so happy.
Erica Plouffe Lazure’s flash fiction collection, Heard Around Town, won the 2014 Arcadia Fiction Chapbook Prize and will be published in July 2015. Another chapbook, Dry Dock, by Red Bird Press, is forthcoming in winter 2015. Her fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, the Greensboro Review, Meridian, American Short Fiction, The Journal of Micro Literature, Fiction Southeast, Flash: the International Short-Short Story Magazine (UK), and elsewhere. She lives and teaches in Exeter, NH and can be found online at www.ericaplouffelazure.com.