Of French & German heritage, German-born Chila Woychik has lived in the Midwest most of her life. She has essays in (or soon to be in) Cimarron, Passages North, Portland Review, and other journals. She's the recipient of writing awards from Emrys Foundation and Red Savina Review. She's also the founding editor at Eastern Iowa Review & is seeking a home for her first hybrid essay collection. Her most impressive role thus far has been as Grandma. For more, visit www.chilawoychik.com.
Content Editor Sarah Raines spoke with Chila back in January. Their conversation is below.
Thank you for “A Rural January-15 Days.” I appreciate the frankness of your observations. What was it like creating this piece?
Thank you for allowing me to share it with you; it was a lot of fun to write! Taking a string of similar (or even somewhat dissimilar) impressions and loosely fusing them together to represent a typical but always-nontypical January in Iowa is always bracing, like this month’s weather.
As a writer myself, I’m interested in hearing about revision. Did you originally plan for half a month in “A Rural January-15 Days” or did other drafts of this work go longer? How did you find your ending?
I tend to let each day’s observations move along organically, without forcing it, and then tie the collection together or move them around a little or simply fill in a few gaps with notes from previous Januarys, all in a way that seems to fit well without becoming repetitive. The half-month timeline was intentional; lately, I’ve been composing rural essays only a week or two long like the one you published. Flash nonfiction is becoming more acceptable in our rush-rush world, and I find the shorter varied segments an apt metaphor for rural living, given nature’s propensity for change, and the need for us to adjust our daily perspective. For the ending, the sky, the winter trees, and the swan’s icy bill stood out in my mind, so I included them. Then I decided to add a little more to avoid the feel of predictability often found in a standard essay conclusion.
I read that you grew up in a small rural town but lived in a city for about twenty years before resettling in a rural area again. How do you think that each of those environments had an effect on your writing?
My upbringing screams diversity in several important ways, so I continually draw from it in allusion, if not fact. Born in Germany to a German mother, settled in Small Town, Midwest, in my early grade school years, but still with the German influence, and then there’s my father’s southern roots—all these play a part. After college, I married, and my husband and I moved to Milwaukee. Nearly two decades later, we shifted back to a rural setting, even more rural than “small town.” Now, I can think small town and I can think city and I can think rural, and each locale contributes its own unique context, its own well of insight for the writer. I’m limited only by my motivation. Everyone has experiences to claim, their very own vistas to write from, and if we listen to the memories and influences, we’ll never run out of either ideas or stories.
Out of Curiosity, when did you start writing creative nonfiction?
The first serious creative nonfiction essay I wrote was called “First Light,” and at the time I didn’t know Tin House from Sugar House, so I sent it to Adroit. How I found that journal and why I chose it, I simply can’t recall. That was about 5 years ago. They didn’t accept it, but I got a very nice personal reply from Peter LaBerge, pointing something out that was important to him. Then I sent it to several other outlets, and it was soon after picked up by the Mayo Review out of Texas A&M. January 2014. I’ll never forget that “first.”
In the past, you served as an editor and publisher of several works of children's literature. Could you please expand on this experience? What was your favorite part?
When I began working on those wonderful children's books, my teen son was still living at home, so I'd often ask his advice on whether or not an idea or certain phrasing worked. It hadn't been that long since he was a child himself, and because of all the memories associated with that, I really loved the process. It gave us even more to talk about than usual and, I think, it grew his own interest in writing. Overall, it was an invaluable experience I would repeat if the circumstances were the same.
I also see you’re the Founding Editor of Eastern Iowa Review. What spurred you to want to start up a literary journal?
Originally, I had a small press and published a couple books a year, but after four or five years the details and daily stress became overwhelming. I wanted to stay in the literary game as an editor and publisher, so it made sense that a journal would be the next best thing. And I knew I needed to keep learning, to keep my toes in the literary world as more than just a writer, to experience the work of authors better than myself. I love being a journal editor for that reason alone, if for nothing else, but there are other benefits too such as connecting with so many wonderful authors.
What advice do you have for fellow writers interested in pursuing a career in editing?
Begin as an intern, a volunteer reader for a journal. Make time to read the assignments and thoughtfully comment on them, if that’s part of your job. You won’t be sorry. But never think you’ve read or learned all you can, because it just won’t be true. Take your time to learn deeply and well. Most of all, enjoy the process!
Read Chila’s most recent Roanoke Review publication “A Rural January-15 Days” here .