Sweet Creative Nonfiction: Q&A with Dustin Parsons

Today’s Q&A is with Dustin Parsons, a contributor of creative nonfiction to issue #002 of Sugared Water.

Dustin Parsons has work appearing recently in New Delta Review, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, Indiana Review, The Laurel Review, Sugared Water, and Seneca Review. He lives in Western New York with his wife and two sons.

a little taste of “Transmissionfrom SW#002:

We decide that the best way is to drop the transmission onto my dad’s chest and let him hold it there while I replace the seal. We could have found some padding, I suppose, an old mattress or the seat to a ’56 Willys sitting in his shop, but this seems faster and, besides, we’ll have a man who has his ass behind the weight when it’s time to put the transmission back. He lowers it as slowly as he can, but it plants itself on his sternum like a funnel cloud kissing ground.

SW: What are you currently reading?
DP: Mathew Gavin Frank’s Preparing the Ghost, a beautiful lyric book-length essay about his search for information regarding the man who took the first photo of a giant squid. Run, don’t walk to this book. I also just finished Hum by Jamaal May which was fantastic.

SW: What are you working on now?
DP: I’ve been researching the 80s oil boom and the early 90s movement by several southwest Kansas counties to secede from the rest of the state. This was happening just as I was graduating from high school and contemplating my own exodus from the state.

SW: What writers/works have inspired you?
DP: Theresa Cha’s Dictee is a real inspiration for my own work, as is William H. Gass’s Omensetter’s Luck. They are both books I read nearly every year.

SW: Where do you seek inspiration?
DP: I look to my own experiences, but often the best inspiration comes from my own research on the more obscure elements of a memory I’m working through on the page. My essay on the mulberry tree that appeared in this magazine was profoundly affected by the bit of information I found that said the pollen of a mulberry tree is released at half the speed of sound. First, it sounded so cool, and it ended up not only being the first line, but also dictated the breathless, fast form of the essay. There is no substitute for research–it is the information you don’t know about an experience that holds most of the power in an essay. Imagine how excited you were when you found out something you didn’t know–that excitement translates to the reader.

SW: Would you talk a bit about your writing process?
DP: With kids, the writing process is a bit more fast and loose than it used to be. An hour or two after the boys go down to bed. Twenty minutes reading through a paragraph when they are eating lunch. I write at a desk only once in every three sessions. I wrote my most recent essay in the waiting room of the Honda dealership getting my car’s oil changed. I’m back to pen and paper for the first time since I was in grad school. There are so many drafts I don’t bother counting. Each one shifts one small degree, but you put enough of them together and suddenly the essay isn’t what you thought it would be any more. I love seeing the first draft in my notebook, and comparing it to the final draft.

SW: With what are you obsessed?
DP: Right now, the way images and text work together to create meaning. I finished Joe Sacco’s Palestine recently, and was totally sold on the graphic essay. I’ve been looking through public domain images of schematics, diagrams, and “exploded view” catalogues of machinery, and adding essays to them. The exchange is fascinating, even when it doesn’t work.

Dustin Parsons | blog | SW#002

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