Leesa Cross-Smith’s newest collection of short stories "So We Can Glow" arrived March 10, making a splash with praise from Buzzfeed, Kirkus Reviews, and more. Roxane Gay said "So We Can Glow" is "so unapologetically for women, about women, a love letter to who we are."
Unfortunately after just two appearances in early March, Cross-Smith made the decision to postpone the remaining book tour dates; but the pandemic hasn’t kept her from virtually dropping in on book clubs and radio shows. Here, the author talks about the wild woman archetype and the importance of women speaking their truth.
DO: Who are your literary inspirations?
LEESA: "My biggest influence is Jane Austen. She's my favorite writer. The Brontë sisters, I really love them. My contemporary authors that I love: Roxane Gay. I like Mary Gaitskill's writing. Her writing feels really dangerous. I love Dana Johnson. I read a lot of short story collections as I was putting mine together, and those really stand out. I love the way that those women write about women, just really unafraid. I would love to see the kind of stuff Jane Austen would be writing today. She's really not scared to write about rascals and ridiculousness; people making terrible decisions and then they realize, Oh no, I've got to clean all this up. I love that so much."
DO: Let’s talk about ’So We Can Glow.’ Why this title?
LEESA: "One of the stories in the book is called "Knock Out the Heart Light So We Can Glow." Whenever I'm trying to focus on a title for a piece, I really just want to get to the heart of it and find one word, phrase, or idea that can sum up the whole entire thing. With that story specifically, it’s putting a flip on hard things: if you let the stuff in your heart get really dark, then it can glow. I want to approach the human condition in my writing in a realistic way, but also always some sort of thread of hope. I just don't see the point in us talking about darkness without some talk about light. As a Christian, as a human who has to live in this world – it's just too heavy. How about we frame it this way: everything gets really dark so we can glow and really show off and change or have the moment where we become a better person or some sort of shift in our thinking."
DO: Your short stories follow very different women experiencing milestones--big or small. What do these characters have in common?
LEESA: "I just really love to write about women in different stages of bloom, if I can put it that way. All different ways of blooming: womanhood, girlhood, motherhood, just sort of on the precipice of a change. It can just be a heart change or a relationship change.
Really, I like to write about an acknowledgment of truth or acknowledgment of feelings, even when they're difficult emotions or when they don't make sense. For instance, there’s a story in there about a woman and her marriage is fine; it's absolutely fine. One night her husband brings a friend home and she thinks, ’Oh, he's interesting, he's sexy, I'm attracted to him.’ Her husband takes a shower, and she's alone with her husband's friend and begins sort of spiraling out in her mind. ’What if I came onto him? What if we kissed while my husband's in the shower? What if this exciting thing that could possibly change my life and I have control of, what if that happened?’
It's these things that we can find ourselves daydreaming about. What if you could change your life with one terrible decision? It's really almost like an obsession for me when it comes to my writing. So I was trying to inject some of that in pretty much every story in this collection--some sort of crossroads where it's either emotional, or we're going to do something wild or making a big jump, or just allowing these women to be awful, weird, wacky, frustrating, without judging them."
DO: Why do you think we’re seeing a rise in women embracing this "wild woman" energy – a woman who lives her life with passion and instinct, and without societal constraints?
LEESA: "I wouldn’t even say it’s a new thing. The dedication in this book is: ’For your girl eyes only, from Eve until the end.’ I think that most women feel those constraints and we find our own ways to rebel against them. I don't think it's a particularly new thing. I think that we're just inspired by being able to see this freedom that we have. There's so many different kinds of women writing and we all can have a voice now. I think we all feel that connection and feel really emboldened and inspired by one another, which then propels us to want to tell the truth, too. I mean, that's what I always want to do in my life, in my relationships and my work. I want to just be telling the truth – but telling it slant like Emily Dickinson. (laughs)
I want to tell the truth as much as possible. And especially arising with the Me Too movement. It's like women are finally telling the truth. I've been lying. We've been lying. We have been lying saying all this is okay. It's not okay."
DO: If you could go back in time and talk to a younger version of yourself at a moment of blooming, what would you say to her?
LEESA: "Never cry over a boy ever. Like just never, ever, ever cry over a boy. Just do something else. Like, learn a new skill. Don't spend any time even worrying about a boy; they'll figure it out. I wish I had all those moments back, all the wasted tears on guys who are like literally not even worth another thought. Also, I have always felt really comfortable being myself, so that's a blessing. I know for sure there's a lot of teenage girls that don't feel that way. But, I would tell my teenager self and even younger self to just be myself even more so. Even though I only had a very small percentage of me that self-conscious, I would just erase even those tiny parts. 100%, do what you want to do and be yourself always."
DO: You’ve got a novel, ’This Close to Okay,’ coming out next year. Can you tell me a little about it?
LEESA: "It's a story about a woman who is a therapist, and on her way home from the gym, she sees a man standing on the wrong side of the bridge as if he is about to jump. So she gets out of her car and talks to him and invites him for a cup of coffee and ends up bringing him back home and they spend a rainy long Halloween weekend trying to figure each other out. I've been writing it for so long. I just turned it in this week!"
DO: Congrats! Now that you’re done with that, how are you staying occupied during this time of social distancing and working from home?
LEESA: "Yeah, it's nice to take a little break. I'm always watching my shows. I love period pieces. I'm always reading something. I've just started another Anne Brontë that I hadn’t read. We walk a lot, really long walks. I'm going to plant some vegetables seeds today. You know, I always can find something to do. I'm a homebody anyway. This is obviously extreme, but you know, I like being at home either way."
Leesa Cross-Smith is a homemaker and writer from Kentucky. She is the author of So We Can Glow, Whiskey & Ribbons, Every Kiss A War, and the forthcoming novel This Close To Okay. Whiskey & Ribbons won the 2019 Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) Gold Medal in Literary Fiction, was longlisted for the 2018 Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, and was one of O Magazine's 2018 Top Books of Summer. Every Kiss A War was nominated for the PEN Open Book Award (2014) and was a finalist for both the Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction (2012) and the Iowa Short Fiction Award (2012).
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