1. What would you want other Offbeat readers to know about you?
I would want Offbeat readers to know how excited I am to have my writing be read! As a full-time writer I spend a lot of time alone working with just my dog and with my inner editor for company (and though my dog is quite pleasant, my inner editor is rough). Having other people actually interact with my work is somewhat of a dizzying thought.

2. How did you start writing?
I’ve always loved reading and been a good writer, so I can’t really pick a start date for this endeavor. My first creative writing class in college was a great experience for me. I loved the give and take of a workshop class and the amount of commitment and attention it required of all participants. I went on to major in creative writing and later went back to school to get my MFA. I really enjoy the challenge of assembling something that engages with readers and (hopefully) makes them feel something or think about the world in a slightly different way for a moment.

3. “Heat” is a story about panda sex—certainly fitting for The Offbeat. How did you come up with this idea?
I happened to read one of those oddly fascinating pieces you sometimes find in the New Yorker about the challenges of getting pandas to mate in captivity (you can read it here). I couldn’t help but compare the ridiculous nature of that article to the ridiculous nature of my sex life post-baby (my son was about nine months old at the time). If my husband and I weren’t being actively interrupted by a crying child then one of us was too tired, or smelled like milk, or a small disagreement snowballed into something completely mood-killing. It was like we couldn’t get out of our own way. So I created a panda couple to most hilariously capture my own experiences.

4. Did you have to do any research about panda mating to write this story? If so, what’s the most interesting (or weird) thing you learned?
Most of the info I took from that New Yorker piece, and then I supplemented by visiting some zoo websites and watching various YouTube videos of pandas (both mating and just hanging around—in large part I wanted to get a sense of the enclosures pandas are kept in). I think the most interesting thing is that female pandas have incredibly short estrus periods during which they can get pregnant–sometimes only a few hours a year. For comparison, your average “fertile window” as a human is about four days each cycle. It’s incredibly hard to tell if pandas are pregnant more or less until they decide to deliver, which is a variable amount of time. Compared to modern human pregnancy, where you are constantly being monitored and everything happens on fairly precise timetables, it’s downright mysterious. I found it fascinating that even in captivity, surrounded by zookeepers and scientists, these animals were still so hard to predict.

5. For Volume Fall 2017 of The Offbeat we asked every author which fictional world they would prefer to be trapped in. You picked the worlds of Dr. Seuss. Why would this be the best fictional world to live in?

If they had any time, the parents of our nation
Could earn phDs and defend dissertations
About which children’s stories they actually like
And why some they are willing to read every night.

While other books often get “lost” under beds,
With asinine plotting or words that flop dead
Or unwieldy sentences, mostly just noise,
Dr. Seuss can deliver unparalleled joys.

The lesson to tiny young readers is this:
Words create worlds; you speak it—it is.
While his ecstatic drawings may linger in time
It’s words that are given their full space to shine.

Words animate creatures who’ve never been seen.
Words invent countries where we’ve never been.
Words give us power. Words make us know.
If you dream it, then write it; that makes it so.

And if all that a writer aspires to do
Is cook up a world and bring readers there too,
If you have an interest in the act of creation,
Of how an idea springs from imagination
And lands on the page like a fish on a hook
You’d do well to crack open a Dr. Seuss book.

6. Do you have any advice for future submitters/writers wanting to get published?
This is my third short story to be published and I’m still figuring out the best way to go about doing it. Waiting for the universe to discover my brilliance has been a less than successful strategy.
I have two pieces of advice for people getting started. First of all, acknowledge what sort of journal fits the particular story you are looking to place. When I saw the description of what The Offbeat was looking for, for example, I knew that it would be a good place to submit one of my weirder stories. Even if they didn’t choose it, it was the right place to be looking. Most journals recommend subscribing first, but I often just look at one sample of text from any given journal and try to quickly assess if the writing style/characters/problems described in any way echo my own work. If anyone knows a better way to do this, they should definitely let me know.
Secondly, it’s a numbers game, which means you need to submit to many journals and do so frequently. I’ve been more aggressive at certain times (at one point a friend and I kept each other accountable to submitting to three journals a week), but at a bare minimum I make sure to always have at least one story out for consideration. As soon as I get a rejection, I try to find another journal to submit to almost immediately.

7. What are your future writing plans?
I’ve been working on a novel about technology and Silicon Valley for a while now. I’m very focused on finishing up that project and finding an agent for it.

A Offbeat Interview With: The Offbeat Vol. 17 Fall Contributing Author, Carolyn Abram

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