Meet a Resident: Gretchen Schrafft
Seattle fiction writer (by way of Massachusetts and Oregon) Gretchen Schrafft was in the first residency group at Mineral School in July 2015. She returned to Mineral with friend and fellow fiction author Josha Nathan this summer to present a reading and volunteer as a “dorm mother” (thank you, Gretchen!). Her work has appeared in Carve, Hobart, Joyland, and many other journals. She teaches creative writing at Seattle University and Highline Community College. Author Kait Heacock conducted this interview.
What inspires you? What inspiration do you hope people will take from your work?
I find it so hard to give a short or concrete answer to this. I’d say I’m interested in how everyone encounters the world we live in differently. I’ve been reading a lot about the Salem Witch Trials for a project I’m doing and there is a 1693 book written about it by Cotton Mather called The Wonders of the Invisible World. The book is all about how the world is full of terrifying and malevolent forces we can’t see, and I don’t endorse that, but I do think every one of us sees things in our day to day realities that are invisible to the person standing right beside us. In my writing, I’m trying to take my characters’ invisible worlds and make them temporarily visible for a reader.
Who do you admire artistically both historically and currently and locally and nationally?
Briefly describe your residency at Mineral: How did you hear about it/get involved? What did you create while there?
I went to Mineral in its inaugural summer, in between my first and second years at Oregon State University’s MFA program. I heard about it because Jane, Mineral’s founder, contacted MFA programs in the Pacific Northwest, letting them know there was a new residency and encouraging applications. At the time I learned about Mineral, my life was pretty stressful and chaotic: I was teaching and taking classes; I’d had some health problems and was often traveling back and forth to Portland to see my doctor; I’d recently gotten married and my husband had moved from Ireland to be with me and we were wading through the green card application process. I was worried the summer—the time I intended to use to do major developmental work on my thesis—would be more of the same. I knew I wouldn’t have my teaching stipend and I was worried about how much finding and working a summer job would cut into my writing time. So the news that I had been awarded a June Dodge fellowship to attend Mineral came at a crucial time and felt miraculous. I used those two weeks to re-work the short stories I’d drafted over the school year, and wrote the very beginnings of a novel project I am working on now. I also relaxed for the first time in what felt like ages.
What are you working on now?
The two things I alluded to above: a short story collection and a novel. The short story collection, A General Theory of Magic, focuses on characters whose belief systems are tested in one way or another. It also, as the title suggests, has a supernatural bent. So in one story that’s set in San Francisco post financial crisis, a young woman takes a job working for a psychic and has to grapple with how this doesn’t line up with any of her overachieving career goals. In another story set in Boston in the ‘80s, two sisters’ lives become so co-dependently intertwined that the death of one leaves the other quite genuinely haunted. The novel is a newer project, which I began without realizing it while I was at Mineral. It follows a fledgling female journalist to a Massachusetts town where a number of high school girls have allegedly “conspired” to all get pregnant at the same time. It’s interested in the female experience and in the limitations of journalism.
As a new teacher, how do you balance writing with teaching? Is there anything you’ve learned about yourself as a writer through the act of teaching others how to write?
I’m not sure I do! There seems to be no way to do both simultaneously without falling behind somewhere. So I’ll put my writing first for a week or two and then become swamped by all the work I haven’t graded and lessons I haven’t planned. Then I’ll go all in on these things and fall behind with my writing schedule.
But the thing is, I find teaching creative writing enormously gratifying, or I wouldn’t do it. To hear a student articulate why writing matters to them, to get to be present for the moment they put that understanding together for the first time—it affirms all the reasons I had for becoming a writer in the first place.
Gretchen is below, center, at Lit Crawl Seattle, where she read with Daemond Arrindell, Jason Vanhee, and Leanne Dunic.