Liz Scheid received her MFA (poetry) from California State University, Fresno in 2008. Her first book, The Shape of Blue, won The Lit Pub’s first annual prose contest and is out now. Her essays and poems have appeared in many literary magazines, including: Mississippi Review, Third Coast, Sou’Wester, The Journal, Terrain, Post Road, The Collagist and others.
TCJWW: In her introduction to the 2013 Best American Essays, Cheryl Strayed says, “the essay’s engine is curiosity; its territory is the open road.” What works as your engine? What compels you to keep writing about a subject that interests you—curiosity, as Strayed suggests, or something more?
Scheid: It always begins with curiosity, which always leads to something more. It’s like a dangerous love obsession. If I’m interested in a subject matter, I begin thinking about it relentlessly, sorting out the meaning(s) in my head. Once I start the writing, I see where it takes me. A professor once told me, “Don’t let the language seduce you.” But I do – I let the language seduce me and take me where it wants to go.
TCJWW: The title of your new collection of essays is The Shape of Blue. The color blue reverberates throughout these essays. Can obsession work against a writer? As a writer, how do you harness obsession to make it work for the collection?
Scheid: Harness is a terrific way to describe taking control of the beast, which brings up the question: who’s in control? The writer or the obsession? I try not to give myself too much control because when I do, I always get in the way. So usually, I let the beast go where it will, wild as ever, and I jot down what happens from there. Sometimes, these are disparate fragments, but then the closer I look, the more I see the similarities. It’s like looking into a kaleidoscope: the beauty is in the patterns.
TCJWW: How do you negotiate your creative nonfiction with your family? Do you face any challenges? Do you use any tools (name changing, composite characters, etc) that ease the transition from real life to the page?
Scheid: I think it’s always a challenge to write about family members or anyone close to us. It’s still something I think about and try to reconcile all the time. I worry about how my kids will respond when they’re older. I guess this is something that’s in-progress. For the most part, I never get too close to subject matter. I’ll cheat here, and borrow a line from Emily Dickinson, “Tell all the truth, but tell it slant.” In other words, I try to always write around the subject, exploring the truth(s) that way. That helps me to avoid getting too personal. I think they can forgive me for that.
TCJWW: Your degree is in poetry. In a recent interview, you said, “Once you study poetry, you can’t ever really go back.” Can you elaborate? Where do you see the line between poetry and essays for you as a writer?
Scheid: I don’t see the line. For me, it’s about the writing. I’m not ever thinking about genre when I write. Sometimes, the form just happens to fit with more of the conventions of an essay or with a poem. Once you study language closely, the way sound and subject matter can work together, like you do in poetry, it’s hard to ever read or write or think any differently. It’s ingrained in every part of me. I tap my foot when I write to hear the rhythm. I’m always using language to uncover a truth or to tap into the subconscious. Sometimes, I need more space and room to let my mind wander for pages, so the essay will work. Other times, I want to take a magnifying glass to a moment or an image and zoom in times a million, so the poetic form makes more sense then.
More Liz Scheid:
Buy The Shape of Blue