Danielle Rose on the Voyeuristic Nature of Epistolary Writing
In Conversation with Kirsten Reneau for the Micro Podcast
Micro is a podcast for short but powerful writing. Each week features a few short pieces of fiction, creative nonfiction, and/or poetry read by the author. In the accompanying interview series, 5 Qs with Kirsten, Kirsten Reneau chats with a featured reader.
When I first read “Epistle on the Sand” by Danielle Rose, it was for fun and I certainly liked it. It was only when I read it again for the purpose of crafting these questions that I faced a lot of difficulties. The more I read it, the more I realized that Rose was partaking in something like plate spinning—they’re doing seven things at once and making it look easy.
There is nothing I love more in this world than peeling back a piece of literature with the writer, and the longer I mined the piece, the more layers I found to the work. Rose briefly and completely lets the reader see the world through her eyes, forcing you to question how much of the world is real anyways.
Listen to Danielle Rose read “Epistle on the Sand” on Micro.
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KR: The opening line for this piece—“More facts: the cell is small”—immediately throws the reader into the action. How did you decide on this opening?
DR: I’m going to begin by doing something I enjoy quite a bit: throwing a wrench into the gears, insisting that we look at this question in a slightly different direction. This is the single piece that has been published from a much longer, full-length “novella-in-microprose” experiment. “Epistle on Sand” is the second piece in the manuscript. It picks up where the first piece leaves off. Which I suppose is the fortune of hermetic work. I could have sat here and pretended that this was an intentional choice rife with symbol or craft-meaning. However, I am so very drawn to messiness in literary writing. All in all, this was luck. Unintentional. I wish I could insist that I work to a plan or do any kind of meaningful revision, but I do not. I write things. Some are good, some are less good. The trick is to not let folks see the stuff that is less good.
KR: This piece offers a really interesting sense of duality within it. There are, of course, the monks who believed that the world is not real and this underlying question of reality, but much of this piece is based in sensory details and actions—the narrator scurries, imagines, evaluates, bites, and pulls. Can you talk about your decision to anchor the audience through these physical motions and sensations?
DR: The larger story I was trying to tell surrounds the Desert Fathers (and Mothers) of early, gnostic Christianity. The cell they wander through dates, perhaps, to the 3rd or 4th century. It is easy to imagine a monk scurrying, imagining, evaluating, biting, and pulling. The material world and the body, the realm of ultimate reality to be obtained through a certain asceticism. In this piece the idea of advancement is physical, moving onwards to the next thing to experience, to passively soak in. Sometimes we must empty things before we can fill them back up again.
But the “I” here is bound to these mundanities while also asking the question if reality is even real. I’m not certain. It is odd for me to write religious poems but here I am, answering questions about religiousness because you all were given a small glimpse at something larger. Which, if I am to be honest, I will admit that I enjoy. To the reader: a religious experience without attachment or faith, the way a body is both here and not here if we allow our mind to begin to open and drift away.
KR: If you could only eat one thing for 40 years, what would it be?
KR: How did you choose the title “Epistle on Sand”?
DR: Part of the genesis of this larger piece is found nestled within my adoration for Anne Carson’s “The Anthropology of Water,” which shares the same echo of epistolary voice as I affected in my “Epistle on Sand.” But ultimately, it is the loci of that voice that creates a kind of Epistlolic-as-I-and-also-you. It is an intimate form, even when cold and materialistic. It is a kind of arm’s-length conversation, that despite the kind of privacy it entails as creating an interstice containing addresser and addressee, remains a kind of record that creates distance through the act of being intended (even fictionally) for someone else.
Additionally, I enjoy the voyeuristic nature of epistolary personal writing. The personal in my work is always abstracted through a kind of generalization, which makes it easier to write about the self. Except it isn’t the self—it is a kind of version of the self. In a way both reader and the author engage in an exercise of voyeurism, creating performances from what they give or take away.
KR: Can you talk a little bit about your writing process in general, where you find inspiration, and walk us through the submission process for this piece?
DR: My submission process is messy. I throw things against the wall and see what sticks. There is no method or plan. I know where I would like to be published, so I send my work there. I’m not usually one to fuss over a single piece, and so I write them, maybe do a few small edits, and then send them out. I don’t pretend to know which pieces of mine will be valued; I’m too close to it. Best to take that worry out of my hands and leave it elsewhere where it belongs. My best pieces tend to be composed in a quick flash and subsequently see little-to-no post-compositional change. If I were to offer something actionable it would be to not sweat the small stuff. This is just literature. It isn’t anything special.
Micro is edited and curated by Dylan Evers and produced and hosted by Drew Hawkins. Theme song is by Matt Ordes. Follow the show on Twitter at @podcastmicro.
Danielle Rose is the author of two short books, at first & then and The History of Mountains. Her work can be found in Palette, Hobart, & Grist.
Kirsten Reneau is a writer, teacher, and interviewer. She received her MFA from the University of New Orleans in 2021 and lives there now with her dog. Her personal work can be found online at http://www.kirstenreneau.