weird words with Michele Finn Johnson

Your story “Liner Notes From Detroit” appeared with us in our KINTSUGI issue. Can you tell us a little bit about your inspiration for the piece, and how you feel like you’ve grown as a writer since having it published?

I wrote “Liner Notes” while taking an online hybrid class with Lighthouse Writers. I can’t remember the specific reading that inspired it, but I recall thinking that using a hermit crab structure to relay difficult subject matter might be a good thing to try. Liner notes were always big thing to me. I used to study Springsteen’s liner notes like there might be a quiz at the end, my silly attempt to fully understand Bruce and all things E-Street. The relationship I chose to fit into the liner notes structure had an 80’s soundtrack to it, for sure—my Springsteen meshed with his Violent Femmes. In 2015, it felt risky to publish a piece that laid out the embarrassing choices of my 20s. Three years later, I think my growth as a writer is tied to truly not caring about telling those truths. Since then, I’ve published nonfiction that’s felt scary (on the verge of puke-y) to have out in the world. But that feels good, too.

What advice would you as a writer now, give you as a writer then?

WWBD—What would Bruce Do? Write your butt off and fail, write your butt off and learn—Springsteen writes dozens of songs that don’t make it on each album.

What time of day do you do most of your writing? Describe your writing rituals and your creative space.

I’m a night owl. My husband is an early bird, so I tuck him in by 9:30 and get to work for a couple of hours. I curl up on my office couch, read one fiction and one CNF piece per day (new year’s resolution three years running), and then I either write or submit work. This is the routine every weeknight. Ooooh, I forgot the hot tea part, and the 80s music in the background (Phil Collins works like magic).

Are there repetitive themes within your writing? Where do you draw inspiration for these themes, and how do you find yourself drawn to them?

In fiction, I seem to keep writing characters who want what they can’t have. I lean toward creating awkward characters who are trying to fit in, but just can’t seem to manage that because their quirks are their fiber. I favor voice-forward pieces, and awkward characters seem to lend themselves to this type of work. Inspiration is never far away if I reflect back on my grade school years—the colorful cast of many of my stories are in there. Shout out to St. Pius X, class of ’77.

Our goal is to publish absurdly unclassifiable literature. Do you have a favourite piece of writing that goes against the grain?

Please don’t make me pick a favorite. I love writers that play with form, and I’m always trying to push myself towards things I haven’t seen. Recently I was introduced to the work of Joseph Young, who is writing micro-fiction on the physical surfaces of a Baltimore rowhouse, telling the story of an imagined family that lived there. I think that’s pretty badass. Link to his work here: https://microfictionrowhouse.wordpress.com

What pieces and/or projects are you currently working on?

I’m close to finishing a collection of essays that combine my work in environmental cleanups with family, place, and a smattering of sex (Ha! Now my sweet husband is nervous!). I’m also working on a collection of flash fiction. I think having two completely different projects ensures that neither gets stale, but I also need to buckle down and finish them both this year.

Michele Finn Johnson’s work has appeared in Colorado Review, Mid-American Review, DIAGRAM, The Adroit Journal, SmokeLong Quarterly, jmww journal, and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated several times for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best Small Fictions. Follow her @m_finn_johnson or visit michelefinnjohnson.com.