Writers

Meet Taylor Koekkoek, 2020 Oregon Literary Fellow

We’re thrilled to introduce the 2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients with individual features on our blog! Out-of-state judges spent several months evaluating the 400+ applications we received, and selected eleven writers and two publishers to receive grants of $3,500 each. For the first time, Literary Arts also awarded two Oregon Literary Career Fellowships of $10,000 each. The 2021 OLF applications will be posted in May 2020, and the deadline to apply will be in August 2020. All of the 2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship recipients will be honored at the 2020 Oregon Book Awards Ceremony.

Taylor Koekkoek

2020 Oregon Literary Fellowship Recipient
Taylor Koekkoek (he/him/his)

Category
Fiction

Bio
Taylor Koekkoek received his MFA from Johns Hopkins University. His work has been supported by the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference and has appeared in Paris ReviewGlimmer TrainPloughsharesThe Iowa Review, and elsewhere.  His short story collection, Thrillville, USA, is forthcoming from Simon and Schuster, as well as an untitled novel to follow.

Q&A with Literary Arts
What are your sources of inspiration?
A good part of my stories I cobble together from anecdotes stolen from friends, or from personal experience, a thing seen out walking about. And in that way, finding myself distracted by late nights with friends or strangers or other diversions, I can tell myself, I’m not avoiding writing; this is just the first leg of the writing process, all of it fodder for something I haven’t started work on just yet.

Reading is also a practice I return to, hoping for inspiration, but I sometimes find the results to be hit or miss. Some writers that I love make writing seem very possible—and what a blessing that is—but then other writers I love make writing seem fairly impossible by their singular and unmatchable artistry. When I’m muddling my way through the writing of a short story, sometimes I just don’t need to be reminded of how perfect and intricate and beautiful a short story can be. I need to encourage myself instead with a low bar, so I may watch a terrible horror movie or other junk foods for the mind. This, I tell myself, is also essential, not just procrastination.

And when all else fails, anxiety and self-loathing can help a writer eke out a story, too. At a certain buildup of bad feeling, you just have to finish something eventually, or else what are you doing? That’s a sort of inspiration. Or maybe all that is overly cynical. Sometimes writing is fun. Sometimes life will thrill you, and you think, oh, I need to write this down.

How would you describe your creative process?
I spend a lot of time failing at writing. I write the first five pages of half a dozen stories or more before I find one I’ll finish. I think, as for the nitty gritty of my creative process, it doesn’t look so groundbreaking. You get an idea for a story, you try it in the morning, revise at night, abandon it the next day, pick it up again later when your spirits are brighter. The story for which I was awarded this fellowship, for instance, I had already tried and quit once, a couple years before I finally tried my hand at it again. My first attempt was garbage, but the notion of the story kept with me. A couple years later and the story came out easily and naturally. Writing isn’t a particularly speedy pursuit, but there’s great satisfaction in it when something finally clicks into place.

What is most exciting about receiving a fellowship?
All of my writing returns to Oregon, and so it’s a very special thing, for me, to be honored with a fellowship that connects me to a place that I’m so fond of and bound up in. It’s also a relief to be able to make rent. This fellowship buys me dedicated time to write. So in those two different spirits, I really am most excited and most grateful.

What are you currently working on?
I’m finishing a short fiction collection called Thrillville, USA. All of the stories included in that manuscript are Oregon stories. And for discerning Oregonian readers, you may recognize that title as belonging to an old roadside amusement park that used to sit off I-5, near Turner, Oregon, which is where I lifted the name. There’s a few stories left to write in the manuscript, and then I’ll need to hurry off to a novel project, which also keeps me writing about Oregon. The novel—and all this I say about the novel I say tentatively and with superstition—is set in northern, central Oregon, a fictional little town dead center in the path of totality of the 2016 solar eclipse, which sees the town flooded with eclipse chasers from all across the state and country. Then ensues chaos and mayhem, and if I can manage it, a little bit of grace.

What advice do you have for future applicants?
I say, have at it, and have at it again. I’ve applied once before already. Fellowships, like submissions for publication or anything else of this writing business, is always, in some part, a numbers game. You have to keep throwing your name in the ring. Help your odds, of course, by submitting work you’re most excited about, and edit the bejeezus out of it, but most importantly, keep applying.

Excerpt from Thrillville, USA
In the first week of the last season at Thrillville, USA a boy got all fucked up in the Haunted Mine. The animatronics tore a wasp-nest apart somehow, and the kid came out stung to hell. Poor kid was riding alone too. I’d always thought you could slip from the lap bar if you really wanted to, but I guess not. So then the minecart ricketed out to the loading zone with this kid shrieking his head off, all pink and lumpy, and his face pinpricked with bruised dots of blood. Denny and I didn’t have any clue what to make of it at first. This deranged, swollen child shrieking like a cat set on fire. Then Glenn with his prosthetic leg came vaulting up on his forearm crutch, shouting for us to kill the ride and release the lap bar already.
  It took us a while to figure out what had happened. The kid didn’t know those were wasps that attacked in the dark. He believed the Haunted Mine was really haunted, and with such conviction that I felt a bit skittish around the ride afterward. Glenn and I had to walk through the Haunted Mine with flashlights and find the shredded wasp-nest buzzing to realize what had happened. I got stung on the hand. The kid was hospitalized, but he was ok. Glenn settled it out of court. He knew the kid’s mother. We suspected they’d been sleeping together. She used to hang around, and he’d made a point of introducing her to everyone. She and Glenn strolled about, sometimes disappearing into his office trailer, while the kid roamed the park off-leash. Women seemed easily endeared to Glenn—we’d met a few of his short-stint lovers by then. He was a good guy, but we guessed it was the leg. The missing one.

Judge’s Comments
“A story set in a place called “Thrillville”? How could I not? Taylor Koekkoek tells the story of the quote-unquote low-lives that operate a failing amusement park in Smalltown, USA—of friendships and loyalty, of drug abuse and a system of poverty stuck on an unrelenting loop. The prose is crisp, unsentimental, unswerving.” – Patricia Park