We had the good fortune of connecting with Holly Walrath and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Holly, what’s one piece of conventional advice that you disagree with?
We’re told often “write what you know.” But as a speculative writer, I’m often in the world of the unknown, from ghosts to aliens to magic. I’m fascinated by the margins of our understanding. Our reality is only understood as far as our ability to process it and know it, but we believe what we know is immutable. The truth is, we’re constantly growing in our knowledge as creators and our knowledge as human beings. That’s why I love science fiction, fantasy, and horror. They ask us to confront the weird, strange, and unexplainable in our lives. I believe that the heart of writing is empathy. By exploring things that are beyond our understanding, we come to have an empathy for that which is different than us. It’s something that can translate beautifully to our lives outside of our creative work as well. When we’re seekers of knowledge instead of authorities of knowledge, empathy is much easier.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
When I got out of my master’s program, I was determined to refocus my life on creative endeavors. I dropped a well-paying job in finance to pursue writing on a semi-full-time basis. I was lucky in that my spouse had just finished school and was taking up work in healthcare. Since I’d supported him through school, it was my turn now. I decided to just start writing as much as possible. In that first year, I wrote about a hundred poems and stories. I remember struggling a lot with publishing my work in the beginning. I wanted to publish, but it was also terrifying to think that someone might read my work and not like it. Eventually, I published enough poems that I decided it was time to do a collection, which lead to my chapbook Glimmerglass Girl. Creating a chapbook for me was about distilling a theme into a series of poems. Eventually I stumbled onto the world of science fiction and fantasy and I knew that was the world where I wanted my work to live. For me, the focus began to shift toward writing outside of what I’d been taught in school, to what I call “Weird writing.” Weird writing inhabits a liminal place between genres. It’s the stuff of the strange and not-quite-definable, a hybrid kind of writing that sings its own song and creates the instruments as it goes. Basically, it’s anything that doesn’t fit the mold. Another theme my work often deals with is the idea of womanhood and gender. When I was growing up, I was taught women’s writing was a certain kind of writing relegated to romance and memoir. But in the world of science fiction and fantasy, women wrote strong, powerful characters. They broke the mold. So I think that is another reason I was drawn to those genres. I took a lot of energy from my foremothers–women like Ursula K. Le Guin, Octavia Butler, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Atwood, Sofia Samatar, who paved the way. I want to write about women who are imperfect, because I’m imperfect, and finding writers who saw that in women was eye-opening to me. In my time writing and publishing, I’ve been interviewed on NPR, featured in the Houston Chronicle, won awards for my poetry, worked with artists from across the globe, published my work in translation, and now I’m about to publish my first full-length collection, The Smallest of Bones (CLASH Books, 2021). It’s kind of stunning to think how far you can come if you simply decide to dedicate yourself to your work. It sounds easy, but it’s not, of course. However, I think the love of writing is what keeps me going. I often say, “write what you love, love what you write.” There are a lot of classes out there about writing, a lot of teachers and voices who will tell you how to write. But in the end, no one is going to do the thing for you. You have to care enough about it to finish the book, take the rejections, and keep writing.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in the Clear Lake area, so I usually take visitors to Space Center Houston to check out the latest exhibits on Mars and the history of the space program. We have all this rich history right in our backyard. I’d also probably take them out for a canoe ride on Armand Bayou (hopefully with a gator or two to view and a few bayou ghosts) and to grab a beer at Nobi Public House, which has some fantastic Vietnamese fusion and a stellar tap list.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
A huge part of my success in both my writing and in my editing career is owed to the Houston based nonprofit Writespace. When I first moved to Houston about five years ago, I was looking for a way to plug into the writing communtiy. I found a family at Writespace of other writers that to this day are members of my critique group, online community, and friend group. These are people who purchase my work, give me advice on what projects to pursue, and helped me launch my small press, Interstellar Flight Press. I’m really grateful for the support of this community over the years, and beyond Writespace, the support of the Houston writing community. Houston is a literary city with a vast wealth of creative people. It’s not just writers, but visual artists, creators, dancers. We are always hungry for more. Even though we can’t commune as we have in the past right now, I know that suppor will still be there when things return to normal. That community has grown to one I see as global, and it’s always exciting to me to meet new people online in the writing community from NaNoWriMo to National Poetry Month.
Image of butterfly background copyright Michael Glazner, used with permission