Katie Fallon is the author of the nonfiction book Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird (Ruka Press, 2011). Katie’s essays have appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines, including The Bark, Fourth Genre, River Teeth, Ecotone, Appalachian Heritage, Now & Then, Isotope, Fourth River, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and her essay “Hill of the Sacred Eagles” was a finalist in Terrain.org’s 2011 essay contest. Katie has taught creative writing at West Virginia University and Virginia Tech. Her first word was “bird.” Visit Katie’s website: http://www.katiefallon.com.
How did your journey with writing begin?
My mother read to me while I was in the womb. She was a librarian, and after I was born she filled my crib with books. I guess my writing future was somewhat inevitable after that early inundation. My mother tells me that I’d memorized The Tale of Peter Rabbit before I went to kindergarten, and I remember writing a poem about a bobcat in third grade. When I was twelve I wrote an obituary for my horse, J.P., and a national horse magazine published it.
Despite my childhood love of reading and writing, I began undergraduate school at Penn State as a Wildlife and Fisheries Science major; I figured I could always write, and a college degree in writing would be mostly useless. Of course, I soon switched my major to English, and I eventually pursued an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from West Virginia University. My passion for animals, wildlife, and the outdoors didn’t abate, however, and most of my writing still focuses on these subjects.
How do the environment and the personal interplay in your essays?
Most of my essays—or perhaps all of my essays—deal with the interplay of the environment and the personal. I guess it’s difficult for me to separate my personal life experiences from my experiences interacting with the environment (by “environment” here I mean “nature” or the outdoors). Trying to separate the two would be difficult for me, at least at this time in my life; for me, the personal is also the environment.
What do you think of the term “creative nonfiction”?
I think it’s adequate but can be problematic, especially for people unfamiliar with the genre. In entry-level creative writing classes, for example, students often think that “creative” means lying or stretching the truth; they seem skeptical (and somewhat disappointed) when I explain that the “creative” part of the term refers to the way a true story is told—by employing creative techniques like scene, dialogue, figurative language, etc. I like the term “literary nonfiction” a little bit better, but it has problems, too. “Literary” sounds a bit snooty and less fun than “creative.” I think the terms that apply to creative nonfiction’s subgenres are better and more accurate: personal essay, memoir, travel essay, nature essay, lyric essay, immersion journalism, etc. Of course, I recognize the need for an umbrella term that encompasses all of these subgenres; for this purpose I’m mostly satisfied with “creative nonfiction.”
Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment.
Lately book-related events have been keeping me busy. My first book, Cerulean Blues: A Personal Search for a Vanishing Songbird, was released from Ruka Press in November 2011, and I’ve been traveling quite a bit (readings, talks, signings, etc.) to support the book. I’ve been having a lot of fun but not writing as much as I would like. I’m slowly working on a book about vultures; I have some written, but I still have quite a bit of research to do before I can complete the manuscript.
Who are some of the writers and poets you admire and take inspiration from?
Edward Abbey is one of my favorite writers; I wish I could have met him before he passed away. I think I’m a bit timid—I usually avoid confrontation, and I don’t like to make people uncomfortable. Abbey inspires me to be bolder (or at least write bolder) than I typically would. I’m also inspired by Terry Tempest Williams; anyone who wants to write about family or place should read her book Refuge, or at least its oft-anthologized epilogue, “The Clan of One-breasted Women.” I love Jo Ann Beard’s essays for their humor, honesty, and often pain. John McPhee, of course. Fellow bird-writer David Gessner. Novelist and short story writer Ann Pancake (seek her out! Read her!) Nonfiction writer Scott Weidensaul. Essayist Kevin Oderman. Novelist Sara Pritchard. I could go on…!
Where else can we find your work?
An excerpt from Cerulean Blues is in the new issue of Toad Suck Review; you can also read an excerpt (a different excerpt!) on The Tusculum Review’s website; I was their Featured Artist in November. And I have an essay forthcoming in TTR’s print edition—I believe the issue will be released later this spring. My essay “Hill of the Sacred Eagles” was a finalist in Terrain.org’s 2011 essay contest; you can read the essay here: http://www.terrain.org/essays/28/fallon.htm.
Interviewed by Christopher Linforth