A Chat with Katherine Dubke

Katherine Dubke’s literary non-fiction piece, Dishwater, appeared in the fourth issue of Niche. You can read it here. Meanwhile, we have invited her to Niche Features for a brief chat, and she kindly agreed.

NICHE: First, when and why did you begin to write?

KATHERINE DUBKE: It might seem cliché, but I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I carried a red spiral notebook around with me and wrote about my favorite foods, future dreams, and the exciting events of the day (exciting to a ten-year-old perhaps).

It is through writing that I re-live my best times, process the hard things, and remind myself of all the beautiful things I have seen and experienced in the world. Writing is my way of inviting people into my world and saying “Life can be beautiful! Here, let me show you.”

NICHE: Who have been some of your non-fiction inspirations, and do they influence your own work?

KATHERINE DUBKE: I would actually say that my non-fiction inspirations are writers of fiction. I grew up reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Brian Jaques’ Redwall books, and numerous other authors. Fiction expresses an imaginary world that is larger-than-life. I wanted to take the storytelling aspects of fiction and use them to tell true stories.

NICHE: Increasingly, fiction and literary nonfiction has become more and more fragmented. Could you explain how the form of Dishwater came about?

KATHERINE DUBKE: Dishwater is formatted as a collage. Much like an actual collage, a literary collage is a collection of bits and pieces that form a whole picture. I first learned about this format from one of my creative writing books, Tell It Slant by Brenda Miller. To complete an assignment, I experimented with the collage and found that it presented both little vignettes as well as solid information in an easy-to-read format. It seemed the perfect balance between imagery and information.

NICHE: Some have defined literary nonfiction as pieces that reach beyond the personal and tell us something new about the world. What’s intriguing about Dishwater is that it presents something everyone knows something about but through virtue of craft, makes it “unfamiliar.” What advice would you give writers who are seeking to do the same thing?

KATHERINE DUBKE: Don’t underestimate the ordinary. We live in a complex world and, with bright screens, blaring music, and bustling cities, the ordinary is easy to overlook. When we actually take the time to examine the “ordinary” we discover that we don’t understand it as well as we initially thought. I like to discover the simple elegance in everyday life—even something as mundane as washing dishes.

NICHE: Can you explain to readers, who may not have read the work, how the metaphor of “cycles” work in your piece?

KATHERINE DUBKE: This work contrasts the dishwashing phases of clean to dirty, dirty to clean. What does it mean to be truly clean? Someone or something has to get dirty in order for something else to become clean. The metaphor of cycles extends to discovery. The reader joins me on my journey as grow from strong dislike of dishwashing to a love of the process. So maybe it’s more about the process than a cycle. But then a dirty dish appears and I have to go through that process of change again.

NICHE: How do you, as a literary nonfiction writer, go about ordering, or making sense of the details of every-day life? That is, how do you go about choosing what details you leave in the piece, without altering the “truth” of events?

KATHERINE DUBKE: It depends on what element of “truth” I am attempting to replicate. Do I intend to capture “just the facts” or am I trying to recreate the emotions that I experienced at a given moment in time? My writing would be colorless if I stuck with “just the facts” and it would lack substance if I didn’t ground emotional truth in objective truth.

I also take into consideration something I like to call lenses. In my experience I have experienced the world through different perspectives… as a child, as a student, an American, a sister, a friend, a writer, a musician… and then I ask myself, which lens does the best job of telling the story?

Once I determine how I want to communicate the truth, I know which details matter and which details are superfluous.

NICHE: What advice would you give aspiring writers, especially those seeking publication?

KATHERINE DUBKE: Love what you do and you will find someone out there who loves it too. If you write because you love writing, publishing will come as a result. There’s nothing wrong with

writing in order to get published, but I imagine that it’s hard to be motivated to continue if your work is repeatedly rejected. Write because you want to write; your love for writing will convey itself to your readers.

On a more practical note, I would strongly suggest presenting your work professionally. Don’t just write a manuscript haphazardly and expect someone to pick it up and read it. Make it aesthetically pleasing (use proper writer’s formatting with headers and spacing) and be sure to include a straightforward, catchy cover letter. Make your reader/editor do as little work as possible.

This interview was originally published on Niche’s website on July 21, 2014

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