Fiction Spotlight: Interview with Emma Leokadia Walkiewicz

Cover of Fiction Spotlight: Interview with Emma Leokadia Walkiewicz

Emma Leokadia Walkiewicz, author of our February fiction selection “The Undressing,” talks about writing in the second person, drafting in one sitting and advice from Annie Dillard.


Can you talk a little bit about where your idea from this story originated? What sparked the idea? Or is it something that you had been thinking about for a while?

The original image for this story was of a naked woman running through a field. Not running from or to anything, and not nude for any reason other than for wanting to feel the breeze on her body; she was simply occupying the space afforded to her.

To be completely bare amongst a backdrop of endless countryside was an idea I wanted to explore for a while. I wanted to follow the image of this woman—why would she feel the need to remove all of her clothing, what would she be doing once the act of undressing was complete? Writing this story, where vastness and silence and nature is so primary, permitted me to, in a way, spend time in a setting I’m always yearning to get back to.  

Tell us a little bit about the process – how long did it take you to write the story? What was revision like?

This story has been with me for three years in various forms, but it was written—if I’m remembering correctly—in one sitting. Initially, it was told from a first-person narrative and had a different title. The revision process was ongoing. I was picking at this story—adding or subtracting a word, inserting a comma, a description, or a line—up until the day before it was accepted. The change in telling the story from the second person perspective was made a year ago. I felt that I had become better acquainted with the narrator and didn’t believe that she would ever be interested in telling a story about herself. It felt right to have this outside voice telling her about the things that have happened, or might happen, to and around her. 

What is your favorite scene, moment, or line from your story? Why?

I like the image of the mother seeing the smiley face drawn in the bus window as her children are getting picked up for school. The heat from the little passengers inside the bus warps this innocent symbol into something that she perceives to be macabre and foreboding. I hope that it conveys something about how she perceives the world around her, how she can’t escape the hinterland of her own mind. 

What do you do when you feel stuck in your writing? How do you work through blocks?

Truthfully, I often feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. There is always something to do—when I’m not editing my novel, I’m working on a short story, or interviews for my website, Girls on the Page. I keep a stack of books by authors I admire within reach. When my concentration is waning I’ll open a book at random, read a page or two and usually that is enough to excite me back into writing. I often think of this line from Microcosmos, a poem by Wisława Szymborska: “But time is short. I write.” 

How did you know you were done with your piece? And when did you feel ready to submit it?

I’ve heard other writers describe it this way: usually something just clicks. The Undressing was a little different, because it was originally a markedly different story than what it is now, the point of view being changed. So I thought I was done, submitted it to a number of journals, but at some point I realized something was missing, there were ideas I needed to play with. I knew I was ready to submit the current version when it felt like I was reading someone else’s story, as though it already existed and I was having an experience with it as a reader, not as its writer. 

If you could give writers one piece of encouragement or advice, what would it be?

This is recycled advice, but I feel that it’s true no matter where you are as a writer: No one else can write like you. No one sees, or feels, or exists in the world exactly as you do, and in that respect everyone has the capability to contribute something singular and interesting. I also appreciate this, from Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life

“Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”


Emma Leokadia Walkiewicz is a writer from Toronto, Canada. Her fiction has appeared in Joyland Magazine and The Minnesota Review. She interviews and celebrates the work of female writers and poets for her website, Girls on the Page. She is currently at work on her first novel.

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