Welcome to The Burning Hearth! I’m in a state of disbelief that November is upon us, but when I look out my window and see the leafless trees and browning grass, I am assured winter is not far away. The brief, wet snow that fell yesterday, let me know that indeed, it’s time for my favorite sweaters and booties to move to the front of my closet.
One thing I’m not in disbelief about is the talent of writer, Lindy Biller. Thanks to my friend Melissa Llanes Brownlee, I became aware of this writer who lives across the way from me in Wisconsin. (I have to thank technology for the fact that a writer living in Japan introduced me to a writer who lives in my home state, and that connecting me to both writers happened more quickly than I can compose this blog.)
Lindy’s work is appearing everywhere, it would seem. And, contrary to her concern of beginner’s luck that she voices in our interview, I believe we are going to be seeing a lot of Lindy for a long time to come. There is a chord-striking depth to her work that resonates beyond the personal. But the personal is where I took her in this interview. I’m glad to say she didn’t shy away from a deep honesty in answering my questions.
How did you first come to writing?
I actually found my way to writing twice. Like a lot of writers, I fell in love with stories at an early age. I was always bringing home huge stacks of books from the library and writing some kind of chapter book—not to do anything serious with it, but just as an escape from the world. In college, I majored in English and took a few undergraduate creative writing workshops, which I really loved. But I could see that my writing wasn’t quite expressing what I wanted it to.
The second time I came to writing, when it all really clicked, was probably July or August of 2020. Around the start of the pandemic, like many others, I hit a mental health low point. Panic attacks, the inability to fall asleep for days in a row. I’d already been struggling with anxiety and depression since having kids. I realized I needed to find a therapist, and he ended up being the one who helped me move through the anxiety and start writing again. I told him I’d always wanted to write fiction and it helped me feel calmer when I managed to do it, but—all the excuses. There was no time, I was too tired, my mind went numb after the kids were in bed, my anxiety made it impossible to focus.
My therapist gave me an assignment: to treat writing as a form of self-care, like eating nourishing foods and exercising. He told me to schedule and prioritize writing time, but also to be gentle with myself and not feel guilty if it didn’t end up happening. Somehow, this unlocked something for me. I had never given myself permission to treat writing as a necessity. I sat down, picked a random anxiety I’d been fixating on, and started writing. I have no idea why or how, but the words were suddenly there.
What are the themes you like to write about and why?
I don’t consciously try to write around a certain theme, but there are topics that I tend to gravitate toward. I’ve published a lot of stories about anxiety, even though my life is much calmer now and my anxiety much better managed than it used to be. It’s still a topic that comes naturally and something that feels important to express. I’ll choose a fear or anxiety in the back of my mind, start writing, and let the story go wherever it wants.
I also love reading and writing parenting and romantic relationship stories that are a little bit strange or surreal. Often, my kids’ favorite things sneak into my writing, because that’s what I’m constantly thinking and learning about these days—insects, reptile and snakes, dinosaurs, outer space, volcanoes, the midnight zone, the layers of the earth. There are so many rich, beautiful images and metaphors to be found in children’s books.
Who or what has had the biggest influence on your writing?
In the past year, I’ve discovered so many amazing lit journals, and that discovery has had a huge influence on my writing! I love reading online journals like Longleaf Review, Flash Frog, Milk Candy Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, X-R-A-Y, Fractured Lit, Reservoir Road, and so, so many others. Before 2020, I had no idea how to interact with the indie lit world. I don’t think I even knew that flash fiction existed as its own genre, or if I did, it wasn’t really on my radar. It’s been such a joy to discover. Reading all the gorgeous, unique, experimental work out there is so enriching, and it has improved my own writing immensely.
I recently read your story “Diagnosis Code F50.81” in Reservoir Road. It is an interesting look at confession, truth telling/sharing, what changes when confession happens, and the inner workings of a person with an eating disorder and all the other disorders that bring it about. In a tweet you said it is a story you didn’t feel brave enough to write. I’m very curious as to why? And, I’m curious to know what helped you to overcome your hesitations and write the piece?
Thank you so much, Constance. The difficulty with this piece wasn’t actually in writing it, but more in being vulnerable enough to put it out there for others to read. The story is technically fiction, but it blurs the line between fiction and nonfiction, drawing from my own experience with disordered eating. I feel like it’s such an important story to tell. At the same time, I was nervous about putting such a raw, vulnerable piece out there. In the story, the narrator is trying to tell someone she trusts about her eating disorder, but the listener twists the confession around and refuses to accept it. I wondered if the same thing could happen to me, putting my own fictional—but also very real—confession out into the world. I also relate to the narrator’s feelings: essentially, “If I tell you this and you believe me, then what will you think of me? How will your opinion of me change?” On top of that, I didn’t want to inadvertently hurt anyone in my life. I withdrew this piece from Submittable at first, and Adrienne at Reservoir Road very kindly reached out and invited me to let her know if I reconsidered. I responded honestly about why I had withdrawn, and she was so understanding. We talked back and forth a little, and she helped me find the boldness to put this story out there, without sugar coating. I did make a few small edits, but the heart of the piece is still there.
What other fears or road blocks get in the way of your writing?
This is such a good question. I think one of my biggest roadblocks is self-doubt—the idea that I don’t know what I’m doing, or don’t have the right credentials, or that everything I’ve written in the past year was somehow just beginner’s luck. If I start feeling like this while writing, it helps to take a break and read other writers’ work. I like to either get immersed in a novel, or to read other writers’ stories online and share or comment on them. I get so inspired by beautiful writing, and it helps to stop thinking about myself for a while. If I’m feeling self-doubt and I haven’t been writing for a few days, the solution is usually just to sit down and write.
Lindy BIller is a writer based in the Midwest. Her stories have appeared in online and print journals, including SmokeLong Quarterly, Pithead Chapel, Trampset, Flash Frog, Chestnut Review, Longleaf Review, Superfroot Magazine, and Necessary Fiction. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram @lindymbiller.
I hope you enjoyed The Burning Hearth’s interview with Lindy. I look forward to reading her future works.
Speaking of the future, next month is a beyond special edition of The Burning Hearth titled The Voices of The Solstice. It is going to feature brief (150 words or less) stories from many different writers speaking to all things joyful, happy, pleasing, and/or wonderful concerning winter or the holidays. It is my goal to have December’s issue fill you full of smiles and good thoughts and comfort; much like a cup of hot cocoa, with melting marshmallows floating on top. If you cry, you will cry because you have been touched. I can promise you, there are a few of those included. Do be sure to stop back next month to read these amazing gifts from amazing writers.
Until then, stay safe and well, my friends. Happy November and Happy Thanksgiving to all those stateside!