An Interview with the nonfiction writers of FTFS
By Meghan Jones, Nonfiction editor
As both editor and contributor to From the Fallout Shelter, there is a plethora of talented work that we work with. Writing for me is a sort of ritual. I do it best after I’ve just finished reading a novel or memoir, or finished a DIY project. I have my little lazy work space which includes lots of blankets, a cup of hot herbal tea, and probably a cat or two, and I need all of it in order to get into the zone. I’ve always wondered about others who write, how they do it and where do they find solace and inspiration. The genre of nonfiction can be complicated. People who don’t write often are confused by it— why would you want to read someone else’s life? Why would you want to write something dull? I sat down with the nonfiction contributors for this year’s publication, Matthew Watson, Alison Smolinski, and Angela Larks and asked them to show me the spirit of their writing.
Meghan Jones: First off, tell me about your entrance to nonfiction writing? Do you do any other sort of writing, or is nonfiction it?
Matthew Watson: I’ve always considered myself—if a writer at all— a fiction writer. I always thought of non-fiction as facts facts facts, but after really playing with creative non-fiction, I found that it’s quite enjoyable. Some of it (especially dialogue) has to be reconstructed, but that can be great too, like capturing a moment in your personal timeline and making it yours.
Alison Smolinski: For me, I’ve always enjoyed journaling. As a kid, I had to write a journal entry everyday or I felt out of sorts. I think that led to a natural interest in creative non-fiction. I’ve dabbled in poetry and long-form fiction, but my most impactful work comes from creative non-fiction.
Angela Larks: Yeah, I’ve always been better at telling what I know. It’s hard for me to be really creative and inventive, so mostly everything I write about is born out some personal experience. Nonfiction is pretty much the only way I write
MJ: Okay, so what do you get out of writing? Is it just a hobby or a passion? Do you find it therapeutic? All of the above?
MW: It can be very therapeutic. Pertaining to non-fiction, it’s interesting what you learn about your own thoughts when writing them down. A lot of what we do and say is reactive. To really analyze a time in our lives can help to understand it further.
AS: Yeah, writing is definitely therapeutic for me. Maybe that’s why writing about lived experiences is so satisfying.
AL: Agreed. Everyone has a story and who can tell my story better than me? No one. I would not consider writing a hobby, I don’t always write. I crochet— now that’s my hobby. Writing is just something I do from time to time.
MJ: Where is it that you write the best? For me, I like to write at home, but I always have a little notebook with me for when inspiration hits. Are there any writing quirks that you have?
MW: I’d say it’s more that the mood finds me. Being a student, I do at times force myself to write, but usually it’s grabbing any random scrap of paper to jot down a great line that comes to me.
AS: For me, inspiration can come from anywhere. Once the spark ignites, I can write, no matter where I am. Also, with two very young children, I write where and when I can. Sometimes I get inspiration in the car and I use my iPhone to record what I’m saying and I write it down later.
AL: Writing is not a mood, it’s a feeling, it’s emotional for me. Anytime is a good time for the type of writing that I do. When things pop into my head, I just pull up Microsoft Word or grab a pen and paper and write. In the future I plan to set aside quiet time to focus on a novel/memoir I want to write.
MJ: How do you express yourself through your writing? Is there a specific style, genre, or inspiration to you that you like to channel? I, personally, like to read comedy writing, it makes me feel like I can be funnier than I am. Is there maybe music that you listen to, or writers that you draw from?
MW: I try to be as unique as possible. There are many writers I admire, but when I write, the organization is a bit chaotic.
AS: I adore Hunter S. Thompson, Ernest Hemingway and Jane Austen. They are obviously different authors, but I think they have really influenced my work. Hunter S. Thompson changed my life as a teenager: his work and vibrant voice, which never turned away from authentic experiences, gave me courage to tap into my own honest voice.
AL: I don’t rely on any specific genre, and I think I have enough life experience that I can write about an array of things. I am a widow, a wife for a second time, a mother of two beautiful daughters, a grandmother, a daughter, and a friend. Speaking of my friends, they run the gamut and we share some 35 years or more together, so the stories that can be told are just waiting to spill out!
Matthew Watson is in his fourth semester as a finance major, and a Navy veteran. He is the winner of “Best Essay” for this issue of From the Fallout Shelter. Alison Smolinksi is a Communications graduate student from Lancaster. Her work can be found in this year’s publication of From the Fallout Shelter and in this month’s issue of The Burg with her essay “How to Celebrate an Anniversary on Amtrak.” Angela Larks is a non-traditional Communications major from Philadelphia. She is a member of a local book club, and her work has been published in previous issues of From The Fallout Shelter in addition to her piece in this year’s issue. She has also been published in local magazine The Burg for her essay “When Life Gives You Lemons.”
Interviewer Meghan Jones is a senior English major and nonfiction editor for From The Fallout Shelter and contributor for the issue as well in creative nonfiction and photography. Her writing can be found in The Burg where she has a bi-monthly column, satire magazine The Harrisburg Beacon, and on her blog The Life of a Pigeon.