Interview with Tina May Hall, this year’s fiction writer for the In Print Festival of First Books

The annual In Print Festival of First Books at Ball State University includes readings, discussions, and classroom visits with authors who have recently published their first books. The two-day event typically includes three emerging authors and an editor or publisher. This year, the authors are Tina May Hall (fiction), Debra Gwartney (nonfiction), and Paul Killebrew (poetry). Fulfilling this year’s editor/publisher portion are the editors of Artifice Magazine, a nonprofit literary magazine.

In Print also marks the release of The Broken Plate. This year, the editors of The Broken Plate asked the visiting authors to contribute an interview to the issue. TBP’s editors would like to note that they are grateful to Tina May Hall, Deborah Gwartney, and Paul Killebrew for the opportunity to share their ideas about writing with the readers of TBP. In the weeks leading up to In Print, we will be excerpting these author interviews here on the BSU English Department blog.

Tina May Hall

Our first interview is with Tina May Hall. Hall won the 2010 Drue Heinz Literary Prize for her short story collection The Physics of Imaginary Objects. She teaches at Hamilton College and lives in the snowy Northeast with her husband and son in a house with a ghost in the radiator. Some days, she spends with her ear pressed to the wall. Some days, she snowshoes with her son to the wolf-ring in the woods where they drink hot chocolate and howl until the crows chase them home. Here is our excerpt of her interview:

The characters in The Physics of Imaginary Objects are so fleshed-out and distinct. How do your characters come to you? How do you find their voices?

I usually begin stories with a line or image, so the character often evolves in surprising ways. I am a painfully slow writer, mostly because I love revising, and it is in the revisions (which generally span a couple of years at least) that the character begins to emerge.

In this book, the reader will find a pregnant woman who craves meat, a woman who keeps her own cut-off digit, a grandmother’s ghost, a museum full of body parts, etc. Is there something you are trying to say or explore with this reoccurring darkness?

What is odd is that many of these things don’t seem particularly dark to me. Which maybe is more revealing of my own worldview than the impetus behind the collection. Many of these things seem rather humorous or hopeful to me, even if a bit macabre. As you note, many of the tensions center around the body, and I think the body is a kind of mysterious, funny, sometimes shockingly strange thing. Then again, my mother is the only one who consistently finds humor in my writing, so maybe the lightness I see there isn’t translating well.

You have a unique ability to explore the absurd and the mystical. Who has helped influence and shape your distinctive style?

I’ve had lots of influences, writers I’ve read at various points in my life who have opened my eyes to what fiction can accomplish. The first was Jane Austen when I was very young, and after that, Gabriel García Márquez, Charlotte Brontë, Italo Calvino, Jayne Anne Phillips, Angela Carter, and many others.

*(Interviewed by Alysha Hoffa)

We are very much looking forward to this year’s In Print. Remember to pick up a copy of TBP for the full interview, and have a safe and fun spring break, BSU!

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