Erin Parker is a name that should be familiar to readers of Drunk Monkeys. Her story, “Gone Like the Moon”, was the first story published in 2014, and nominated for The Best of the Net. Her work, a mixture of the personal and the surreal, has been featured in numerous publications and anthology, most notably as a regular part of the Uno Kudo series.
Erin will also be participating in the first-ever Drunk Monkeys live event–at Gatsby Books in Long Beach on February 17th. Ahead of the reading, Erin spoke to Matthew Guerruckey about her work, her love of fantasy fiction, and the healing power of an audience.
Drunk Monkeys: In your story “Gone Like the Moon”, which we published at the beginning of last year, you really captured the fear and the adventure of childhood. What was your own childhood like?
Erin Parker: Thank you, that’s what I was hoping to do with “Gone Like the Moon”. That story is loosely based on something a babysitter told me once. I believe I was about 5 years old, maybe 6? She told me that I could choose to go to a magical world, but that I could never come back. When I said I wanted to go, she started laying on the guilt. I remember the shame of admitting that I wanted to go away, and the more I thought about it the worse I felt. But I was so intrigued by fairy tales that I couldn’t resist wanting to go explore a magical world. I guess nothing has changed!
I am an only child of parents who divorced when I was 2. My mom was an elementary school teacher, so books and imagination and art and creativity were important in our home. She was very structured. My dad, on the other hand, led a very chaotic life. I saw him inconsistently, although he lived close by. He was married and divorced 4 more times after my mom, so I was continually adjusting to his life changes and a lot of new people who were in and out of my life without warning. Dealing with serial divorces as a kid was pretty awful, because it always felt unstable and out of control. Just when I thought I had a stepfamily, they were gone. It was confusing, and I think I tended to deal with the contradictions and duality of my parents and their opposite lives by living a lot in my head. Writing helped. Art helped. Creativity helped. Sometimes these were the only things that made any sense to me.
I am working on a flash fiction collection which will draw from a few childhood experiences, and I am really excited about it. The story that will be published by Drunk Monkeys, “Visitation Weekend”, is one that will be included in the collection.
DM: When did you begin writing?
EP: As a young kid, I wrote and illustrated stories and made books by stapling pages together. Then I would tape pockets on the inside cover and make them into library books. I’d fill out the cards with fictitious names, and I had a date stamp I would stamp the cards with. Playing Library was a really interesting and long, drawn out game for me that I played for a long time.
I won a writing contest for my school district when I was in 6th grade, and again in 7th grade. They printed small paperback books of the winning stories. There was a book fair where I sat at a table and signed my little books for people. It was incredibly fun!
DM: Some of your past work, most notably “Dance Home”, from the Uno Kudo: Naked anthology, has been drawn from very real, very painful experiences in your past. Has writing about these experiences changed how they affect you?
EP: “Dance Home” was a story that evolved over a long period of time. Working with Bud Smith, who edited it and encouraged me to make the story hit the reader harder, was exactly the push I needed. Writing “Dance Home” wasn’t difficult on a personal level, since I had told this story in numerous ways, using different mediums – primarily dance, choreography and art. Seeing it in print was both exhilarating and moving and also really scary. It seemed to have taken on a life of it’s own on those pages. This event that had receded so much from my day to day life suddenly felt very immediate again, and I wasn’t expecting that to happen when I saw it in print.
The thought of reading “Dance Home” at the Uno Kudo book launch was absolutely terrifying. I didn’t know if I would be able to do it until I actually started reading. I will never, ever forget reading it in Gottfried Helnwein’s art gallery, in that room full of enormous, dark oil paintings and so many people that they ran out of chairs. The room was so quiet, and the love coming at me from everyone listening to me read was palpable. I could feel it coming at me in waves, it was beautiful. Reading it seemed to go on forever, and I remember trying to read slower and slower because I didn’t want the moment to be over! When I was done, I felt like the story was actually gone from inside of me, the events of the story were finally, finally done after so many years. It was cathartic and it was an almost sacred and beautiful way for me to literally and figuratively close the book.
DM: Which work of yours do you feel most proud of? And what is it about that piece that represents you so well?
EP: I really love “Small Creatures”, which was published in Aaron Dietz’s collection of Superhero stories from Timid Pirate Publishing. It’s a Superhero Origin story for a girl who saves animals in trouble. I pulled a few real events from my childhood and turned them into a really cool story. This story has been read by some of my friend’s kids, and they liked it. That feels really good. I know I will revisit this character in more stories. I have a million ideas for her!
DM: Who are your greatest influences, either as a writer or as a person?
EP: I have always been a voracious reader, and books were my best friends when I was a kid. I read the same books or series over and over, so they became a part of me. Most formative was everything from the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander, to L.M. Montgomery and the Emily of New Moon books, The Secret Garden, Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, or Hemingway and his perfection of the sparest language to tell the fullest story. These days I would say it’s Margaret Atwood, Gregory Maguire (whose language is so perfect it actually hurts me), Mark Helprin and Philip Pullman. And of course Orson Scott Card. I am all over the map with genres. That’s what lights me up.
DM: Do you have any plans to create a fantasy series of your own?
EP: I would love to do that. I have no concrete plans as of now, but that would really be living the dream for me. However, I know I’m not ready yet. I’m still working on my storytelling skills and voice. My love of flash fiction, the distilled down story, makes me question whether or not I would have the ability to write a series. I am afraid to fall into that trap of writing a lot of filler just for a page count. Ultimately, a good fantasy story is a really just a well written story set in a fabricated world. But, yes, that’s the dream.
DM: You’ll be reading at our first live event at Gatsby Books on February 17th. What do you get out of interacting with an audience?
EP: I am so excited to be reading at Drunk Monkey’s first live event! What an honor. I haven’t done too many live readings, but I have found that I love the energy in the room, and I love being around so many people that love stories and poetry and words. I think that’s what makes these events unique. I love how supportive everyone is of people who get up and read their work. I like the few times I have heard listeners gasp or laugh or there is some kind of response to what I am reading. It feels good that people are right there in the moment with me.
Erin Parker will be reading at Gatsby Books in Long Beach, CA on February 17th at 7pm, along with Andrew James Stone, S.C. Stuckey, William Lemon, James Claffey, and Kevin Ridgeway.