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2013 OLF Recipient in Literary Nonfiction: Myrlin Hermes

Myrlin Hermes is the 2013 recipient of The Friends of the Lake Oswego Library William Stafford Fellowship
. She  is the author of The Lunatic the Lover and the Poet and Careful What You Wish For. A graduate of Reed College and the University of London, she was raised in Hawaii and currently lives in Portland, Oregon.

Hermes was kind enough to answer several of our questions about her creative process and being a fellowship recipient.

1. What are your sources of inspiration?

There are a handful of short high-concept poems or stories, as well as a few other creative artistic projects I’ve done, that I can point to as the result of “inspiration”: a ticklish idea like a bolt from above, which becomes an obsession that must be manifested in a manic fury. But it is by nature unpredictable, and a difficult energy to sustain over a long-form project. In writing a novel, I think inspiration is less important than momentum: remaining committed to a journey that (compared to reading, at least) can be a painstakingly slow and tedious slog through a story. I like writing humorous fiction, because if I can make myself laugh with a funny or clever line, it keeps me entertained while I’m writing as well as (hopefully) entertaining the reader as well.

2. How would you describe your creative process?

Writing, for me, is much like trying to remember a vivid and complicated dream. You can see and understand the entire scene in a flash, but it gets slippery when you try to pin down the details. I write quite slowly—perhaps five hundred or a thousand words a day—partly because I don’t write a narrative through from beginning to end, but work on the entire chapter like a jigsaw puzzle, completing a paragraph here and a line or two of dialogue there, and figuring out how the pieces all fit together.

3. What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?

A memoir feels in some ways like an almost presumptuous undertaking. Fiction writers are praised for deftly capturing the details of everyday life and ordinary people; but to announce that you are writing a memoir almost inevitably invites raised eyebrows, the question implied: Just what exactly is so interesting about you, anyway? Receiving this fellowship helps to quiet those doubts. I feel now like I have not only a right to tell my story, but an obligation to Literary Arts and the judges who chose my project as worthy of support, to attempt it to the best of my ability.

4. What are you currently working on?

I’m just now seeing the end in sight of a doorstopper of a novel I’ve been working on for several years: a darkly comic historical satire about the 17th century playwright, spy, and proto-feminist rabble-rouser Aphra Behn.

5. What advice do you have for future fellowship applicants?

I think it helped that I tried to tell a story in the application essay, confessing to the setbacks in my writing career and explaining how I overcame them, instead of simply restating those moments of triumph listed on my CV. Don’t be afraid to show emotion and personality, including gratitude for the opportunities you’ve been given in the past. And it never hurts to have a sense of humor.

2013 OLF Judge Michael Pearson had this to say about Hermes’ work:

“‘Many Hats,’ the excerpt from Myrlin Hermes’ memoir about her life with her unconventional parents, has the emotional precision and consistency of voice found in the award-winning nonfiction of Tobias Wolff. Hermes’ story comes from a youthful narrator who recounts with lyricism and honesty the story of the fairytale father, both larger than life and less than he should be. Hermes’ tale could be ‘This Girl’s Life,’ a narrative in which we see the adult world through the clear-eyed innocence and tough-minded sincerity of the child.  In Hermes’ other excerpt, ‘Red Ribbon Cake,’ she brings to life another extraordinary character in her Uncle Herb, and in her dramatization of him, she suggests that her memoir will portray, with respect and candor, individuals not eccentrics.”

Completed applications for the 2014 Oregon Literary Fellowships are due to Literary Arts by Friday, June 28, 2013. Fellowships are awarded to Oregon residents in poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, drama and young readers literature. Fellowships are also awarded to publishers. Applications and guidelines are available at https://literary-arts.org/oba-home/apply/fellowships, or by contacting Susan Denning at susan@literary-arts.org.