In Process with: Rachel Lyon
On the intersection between mothering and work, the role of memory, and the gratitude for going at all
Today’s In Process With… brings us to the desk(s) of the writer Rachel Lyon. Rachel and I met when we figured out our first books had the same launch date—which was actually yesterday; happy 6 year book anniversary to us! That book was SELF PORTRAIT WITH BOY, which was a finalist for the Center for Fiction's 2018 First Novel Prize, and which I recommend to anyone who wants a book about artists, grief, chance, gentrifying Brooklyn in the early 90s, and the essential question of responsibility: to self, art, community. I can still see the pile of tissues I accumulated while finishing it in a hotel room in Chicago, devastated by what it had to say and also just really sad it was over.
Lucky us, Rachel’s next book, FRUIT OF THE DEAD—a contemporary reimagining of the myth of Persephone and Demeter set over the course of one summer on a lush private island, about addiction and sex, family and independence, and who holds the power in a modern underworld1—is forthcoming from Scribner in just one short month. That book lands on March 5th, but I encourage you to pre-order it now, both because pre-orders really really really help authors2 and because you will be damn pleased that you did. I was fortunate to read an early copy, and here’s what I had to say about it:
"Rachel Lyon’s genius, alluring novel is a mythic and modern love story: between mother and daughter, between a young woman and the danger she needs to experience, between her darkest and brightest selves. I read with my heart in my throat and my breath held, a total glutton for its sentences and Cory’s propulsive, sparkling, and often terrifying journey."
Rachel and I have become great friends, early readers of one another’s work, and resources for the particular space where writing and mothering meet (and yes, often cause mayhem, but also inform our work, which you’ll hear more about in a moment). Rachel is as wonderful at talking about the big questions that underpin literature as she is getting into the details of craft, whether that’s approaches to understanding character or at the line level. Recently, with another writing friend, we talked—passionately, joyfully—about question marks versus periods for rhetorical questions for approximately 25 minutes. You might remember her as one of my early readers of my novel draft; she had very practical solutions to the problems that seemed, before our conversation, overwhelming. Her newsletter’s origins are writing prompts, which she is especially talented at inventing. Here’s a collection of 100 of them to mark the 100th issue, but any one from the archive will undoubtedly teach you something new about your work.
Rachel's short work has appeared in One Story, The Rumpus, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and elsewhere. A teacher of creative writing at various institutions, most recently Bennington College, she lives with her husband and two young children in Western Massachusetts, though today she writes to us from Los Angeles, where she might not currently be literally flooded, but the weather still swirls with all sorts of unpredictability.
Learn more about Rachel and her work here, subscribe to her newsletterfor essays on craft you’ll chew over for weeks, and follow her on Instagram @regalitybites. Her spring events along the east coast for FRUIT OF THE DEAD are here.
When the fates3 allow Rachel and I to meet up in person, it’s often over ice cream, which I encourage you to enjoy alongside Rachel’s answers below in her honor.