Taylor Sykes attended Purdue University and currently works as a creative writing instructor at Writopia Lab in New York City. Her flash fiction has been read on NPR’s All Things Considered and her fiction and poetry has appeared in journals such as Quail Bell Magazine and Pieces of Cake Magazine.
Who is your favorite female identifying written character and why?
I’m going to go with Villanelle from Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion. Villanelle is unpredictable, contradictory in nature, and feisty as hell. She embraces passion, chaos, and is open to love in all its forms, despite the “sweet and precise” torture it causes. Villanelle is definitely one of the most badass female-identify characters I’ve ever encountered.
What literary work by a female identifying writer had the most effect on you as a writer and/or person?
There’s too many to say! I can’t, I can’t. Okay, I will, I will. The short story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” by Joyce Carol Oates. This is the short story that made me want to write short stories. There’s so much build-up in such a small space and the ending left me shaken. The subject matter, involving a strong-willed girl in a vulnerable moment, resonated with me. I read “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” at such an early age, probably only 16, that it really impacted the style and subject matter of my future stories. And it’s still one of my favorite stories to re-read and to teach.
How did your story Worse Things come about?
As is the case with most of my fiction, the story started with the character’s very specific voice and a general idea of the setting. I had Prudence yammering away in my head, so much so that voice was overpowering the plot. So I wrote this character into a car and let her describe the small, claustrophobic town. I knew certain things about her backstory, so I wrote the interaction with her cousin next. It felt important to explore the varying experiences of sexual trauma as well as the entirely subjective perspectives on this trauma. So that conversation between the two characters and Prudence’s moment of panic were prominent in my head early on. I wanted Prudence to flee the scene at the very end, that felt authentic to her character, and went in with that goal in mind when I started writing. The first draft was written in three furious days and revised, revised, revised for several weeks before workshopping it at the Tin House Summer Writers Workshop, which was immensely helpful, and after that, I knew what final revisions needed to happen before I could send it out.
What has been your greatest writing life moment so far?
During undergrad, I had the honor of working with Sharon Solwitz. Over three classes and two years’ time, she became my mentor and fiction mother at Purdue. Working with her changed my writing life as well as my, I guess I’ll call it regular life, so I’d say that my first day in her class was my moment.
What is your favorite piece by another writer from Issue One and why?
Both poems by Nazia Jannat. One, I’m a sucker for strong villanelles (“A Palestinian Elegy”). Two, “Self Portrait for Whiskey Kisses” is just so damn smart.
What are you currently working on ?
“Worse Things” is one in a series of linked short stories that I’m working on.
Who/what is your favorite Alice/Alyss?
Oh, this is such a great last question. Alice Ayres, from the play/film Closer.