Susan Tepper on Fictionalizing Real Life

Susan Tepper is a co-editor of Istanbul Literary Review and the author of DEER and Other Stories, published this year by Wilderness House Press. I enjoyed this interview with her at Brizmus Blogs Books, excerpted below. Like Susan, I find that the real lessons and emotions from my experience become clearer when I change the facts.

BBB: It seems to me you had quite a few jobs before turning to writing, and some of them sound pretty amazing – actor, singer, marketing manager, flight attendant, tour guide, interior decorater, rescue worker, television producer. Which one of your many jobs was your favorite?

ST: The funny thing is, I liked just about every job I was doing, so at that time that particular job seemed perfect and my favorite. But then wanderlust would kick in, or some life situation that required a change or a move, and I’d find myself in another career. Some things I sought out while others seemed to fall in my lap. While I was working as an interior decorator for a national furniture chain, a woman came into the store seeking decorating advice. It turned out she a principle in a cable tv station, and after working with me, she asked would I be interested in doing a daytime slot about interior design. So I produced that series of shows, about 20 of them. Acting was always my first love, but I kept drifting in and out of that because I needed an income. I worked as a flight attendant for TWA as a chance to escape a bad love affair and to see the world for free, and it was worth every second! Rescue worker was not my choice. While I worked for Northwest Airlines, there was a terrible crash in Detroit. Since I was part of airline management, they “recruited” me along with other managers to work at the crash site. At the time it was devastating, but in retrospect it was a blessing. Everyone who worked that crash seemed like an angel to me. It was a very holy place, and I’m still close with some of the others who worked the crash.

BBB: Wow! Sounds like you’ve had a lot of life experience! I guess this must be what makes your writing so amazing.Did any of these jobs in particular inspire you to become a writer? Why did you finally turn towards writing in the end?

ST: I believe that all of life is a conspiracy to move us in a particular direction. The mystics think of it as “soul work.” My curiousity led me to seek out many job experiences, all of which provide me with material for writing. Of course I didn’t see that until I’d been writing for a while. At least a decade before I began, a psychic predicted I would become a prolific writer. At the time I was an actor and her prediction struck me as absurd. I had no interest at all. Except for one poem that had popped out of me rather spontaneously, I had no other real writing.

BBB: Soul work, huh? I like it!

The imageries in Deer are so vivid; it almost seems as if you lived through all of your stories personally. Which of the stories, if any, were based on personal experiences, and how so?

ST: Everything we write comes from what we have witnessed, dreamt, longed for, overheard, and even despised. We often write what is missing in our lives. There are snipets of my real life in every story, but usually not as the story is written. I tend to disguise my fiction in metaphor. This is not done intentionally. I find my own life kind of boring to write about. It doesn’t interest me on the page. And because I write spontaneously, and never plot or outline, it just spills onto the page. I’ve been called an emotional writer, and I won’t deny that. I can see how certain stories evolved based on what was going on with me at the time. But other than that, each story holds claim to its own life.

One comment on “Susan Tepper on Fictionalizing Real Life

  1. Susan Tepper says:

    Hi Jendi, I like how you prefaced my interview by saying that “real lessons and emotions become clearer when you change the facts”; hence “fiction” the way I like it too. As the noted novelist Edna O’Brien put it, when asked if she’d write a memoir: I save my life for my fiction (not a direct quote but close enough).

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