I have an audio version of this interview, but the sound quality is terrible, so here’s a text version for you all to enjoy.
Constance Squires is the author of the novel Along the Watchtower (Riverhead), which won the 2012 Oklahoma Book Award for Fiction, and a novel and short story collection which are both forthcoming in 2017: Live from Medicine Park (University of Oklahoma Press) and Wounding Radius and Other Stories (Ferry Street). Her short stories have appeared in Guernica, The Atlantic Monthly, Shenandoah, Identity Theory, Bayou, the Dublin Quarterly, This Land, and a number of other magazines. Her nonfiction has appeared in Salon, the New York Times, the Village Voice, the Philological Review, Largehearted Boy, and has been featured on the NPR program Snap Judgment. A regular contributor to the RollingStone500 (thers500.com), she also reviews literature and music with work that has appeared or is forthcoming in World Literature Today and The Collapser. She composed the screenplay for Sundance fellow Jeffrey Palmer’s 2015 short film, Grave Misgivings, and co-edited the first and second edition of Speculations: An Anthology for Reading, Writing and Research (Kendall Hunt Publishing). In 2014, she was the guest editor for This Land’s summer fiction issue, and she participated in the Tulsa, Oklahoma episode of Literary Death Match as a judge. Currently, she is working on a third novel, The Real Remains.
Dr. Squires teaches Writing Short Story, Writing the Novel, Fundamentals of Creative Writing, Rock and Roll Literature, Editing and Marketing and English Composition I and II at UCO. She also directs the Everett Southwest Literary Award, a bi-annual prize that awards $5,000 in alternating creative genres. She received the college of Liberal Arts’ for Outstanding Scholarly/Creative Activity in 2010 and the Faculty Merit Credit Award for Creativity in 2013.
JB: Tell us about yourself, how long have you been at UCO and where were you before?
CS: I have been at UCO [University of Central Oklahoma] for 10 years this year. I did my BA at OU [Oklahoma University] my MA here [UCO] and did my PhD at Oklahoma State [OSU]. So, I just sorta moved up I-35 collecting degrees.
JB: You worked at Cimarron Review at OSU. What was the best learning experience you got through that?
CS: The best part of that for me was it gave me courage for my own submissions, because you know the rejection rates for these magazines can be up to ninety-nine percent. So, that can be really daunting, but having been the person to have to weed through a thousand submissions—I realized a lot of these are not exactly ready for prime time, and I can hit that one percent if I do my best. So it gave me confidence, I don’t let those numbers intimidate me, and I interpret each rejection as one step closer to the yes.
JB: How has Cimarron Review evolved since you have left? Has it become more prestigious?
CS: I think it continues to increase in prestige simply by virtue of its sticking around and publishing quality work on a consistent basis. It’s pretty low-key, but they seem to be really secure and there has been no giant threats to their funding that I’m aware of. They have a solid aesthetic that’s high quality.
JB: Since you have been at UCO, have you seen a shift or evolution in students’ works and could you talk about that a little bit?
CS: Yeah, absolutely. I think we’ve got a lot of better work happening now. Just the quality of the students seems to be getting better. You know, we started the MFA program in 2008 and we had some outstanding students through that program, but when we didn’t have the funding to do it we were worried the quality of students would drop off, but it hasn’t and it’s been really nice moving back into the undergraduate classroom and the MA classroom finding that there is good and exciting stuff happening. So, we’ve had a lot of faculty changes and our new hires are making it so there is a consistent experience in these classrooms that is high and that is a great feeling.
JB: Absolutely! Just looking at the student side of things, looking at where the bar is set and anything less than that is really just unacceptable. Being pushed to exceed expectations or to get out of your comfort zone is really what has helped me in my own writing.
JB: Do you see the political climate sparking some of the students’ work in a new way compared to, say, eight years ago?
CS: I think so, yeah. I mean, we’ve never been in a moment like we are now and as soon as it happened [Drumpf election] my first thought was that we were entering a new golden age of strong art—that things would come of this time that wouldn’t have shown up otherwise. I was thinking about punk rock, protest music, and how in literary terms this was probably going to be a moment for major satire in literature. The kind of time that produces another Catch-22, another Slaughterhouse Five—literature that can finesse the absurdity of our times without devolving into smugness. I do think that is happening. I do think it will happen. Like right now, I just finished critiquing a student’s poetry submission for my Capstone class, and it was just so mindful and involved and really owning this intelligent feminism. I mean, my experience is that just two or three years ago a woman in her early twenties would’ve still been under the impression that feminism meant she hated men. Whereas now, those conversations aren’t happening so much. So it made me happy!
JB: That’s awesome!
CS: Yeah, it was really good and energizing.
JB: Having said that, do you find yourself exhausted or energized after you finish writing?
CS: Kinda both, yeah… I mean if I feel good about it then I am really excited, but I always go through a lot of drafts, so there are all these emotional ups and downs, it’s really bipolar. I usually end a first draft with this mode of victorious egotism like a prisoner coming up out of the ground after digging a long tunnel feeling like, “I‘m free! I rock!” You know? Then the next day I think, “I suck. This is so blah.” Then I balance out and I tell myself it doesn’t suck, but it’s not there yet and so I just sorta keep going. So, there are happy victorious moments, like when you get an acceptance. I’m about to get the copy edits for my novel, and that’s bound to be full of ups and downs.
JB: Yes, please talk about some of your recent projects..
CS: I’ve got two books coming out this year, a novel and a collection of short stories.
JB: What are the titles?
CS: The novel is called “Live from Medicine Park” and OU Press is bringing it out in late September. The short story collection is called “Wounding Radius,“and it is coming out about a month before the novel, in late August. I am really excited for both of those in different ways. Because the short story collection is stuff I’ve written over the last ten years, including the stuff I was writing in grad school, so really even more than ten years. The short stories deal with all different themes, styles, aesthetics. They’re all different subjects. They’re all different story arcs. I feel more proud of that one, actually, because I feel like the writing is better–only because I fell that short story writing is so much tighter. Whereas the novel, I am excited about in a different way, because it’s pushed me in ways I’ve never been pushed before. It has a lot of plot, which I’ve never really done before and I don’t feel that I am all that great at, but I wanted to challenge myself in that direction.
JB: I gotta ask, do you leave any “easter eggs” or secrets that only your closest friends or family might notice?
CS: Yeah, I do that, always. In the novel that’s coming out, one of the main characters is a musician, well actually a couple of them are, so there’s an intertextual aspect to the book, quite a few lyrics, and also a media kit for one of the character’s work that has lyrics and reviews—album reviews, film reviews. I had some fun embedding stuff in the lyrics and elsewhere.
JB: What would you tell your younger writer self?
CS: I think I would just tell myself not to be lazy, to read, read, read, and not to pick on myself so much.