Interview with Kelly Fordon, Author of Tell Me When It Starts to Hurt

Photo: Kelly Fordon

Photo: Kelly Fordon

Brief Biography:

Kelly Fordon’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Florida Review,  Kenyon Review (KRO), The Montreal Review, Rattle, The Windsor Review and various other journals.  Her poetry chapbook, On the Street Where We Live, won the 2012 Standing Rock Chapbook Contest. Her new poetry chapbook, Tell Me When It Starts to Hurt, was published by Kattywompus Press in April 2013. Her collection of linked stories, Garden for the Blind, will be published by Wayne State University Press in April 2015. She works for the Inside Out Literary Arts Project in Detroit where she lives with her husband and children.

Geosi Gyasi: What led you to become a writer?

Kelly Fordon: When I was little I read all the time. I was an only child and often lonely. Reading books was a way to escape and have adventures in Narnia or Middle-earth or any number of fabulous locations. Naturally when I grew up, I continued to enjoy reading but I also thought about creating stories. For a long time, the only thing that stopped me was that I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to pull it off.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a favorite between these two genres: poetry and fiction?

Kelly Fordon: No, I write poetry when I am overpowered by a feeling, and I write fiction when I have a story I want to tell. I vacillate between the two genres on a regular basis.

Geosi Gyasi: Is your approach to writing poems different from that of fiction?

Kelly Fordon: When I am writing poems, I am looking for a container for my feelings as well as the words to describe them so I am on the hunt for images, metaphors, etc. and for different poetic forms. I look in the newspaper or in magazines. I am very inspired by artwork. I roam around a lot and listen to science podcasts or Ted Talks. Then when I have three or four disparate elements to work with, I am ready to write a poem.

When I write fiction, I usually start with something that happened to me and then veer off into fiction. For instance one time I took a cruise to Greece with two friends. We talked to a man on a deserted beach who was kind of a lothario. Afterwards I wrote a story about three friends who travel to Greece and I even included the man on the beach, but the three characters were very different from myself and my friends and the main plot (how to recover from the death of a spouse/an affair and pinning a crime on another person) are three things I have never experienced. Essentially I used my own experience for the location, but made up the entire plot!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific audience you write for?

Kelly Fordon: Not really. I write for myself. I write to figure out where the story will take me. Then I revise until the manuscript is as close as I can come to a good piece of literature—one that I would want to read.

Geosi Gyasi: Who are your literary forebears?

Kelly Fordon: I admire Catherine Barnett, Vievee Francis, Julia Glass, Julie Hecht, Christie Hodgen, Laura Kasischke, Sally Keith, Daniel Mueller, Naeem Murr, Alice Munro, Jenny Offill, Marilynne Robinson, George Saunders, Gloria Whelan and a great many other people!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you do poetry readings?

Kelly Fordon: Yes I do.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you belong to any group of writers?

Kelly Fordon: No, not right now.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you think about critics when you write?

Kelly Fordon: I try not to!

Geosi Gyasi: Do you revise a lot?

Kelly Fordon: Yes, some of the stories in my forthcoming collection of linked stories, Garden for the Blind, were first written more than a decade ago. I have revised them twenty or thirty times.

Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your work-in-progress to friends before it is published?

Kelly Fordon: Sometimes I trade work with other writers I’ve met at writing conferences or writers from my MFA program at Queens.

Geosi Gyasi: You’ve worked for the National Geographic magazine. Tell us about some of the things you did there?

Kelly Fordon: I was an editorial production assistant. I worked with the editors revising copy. Each article (at least when I was there) had to be reviewed by multiple people so the production assistant was responsible for marking up and running the manuscripts between various editors.

Upcoming in April 2015 by Wayne State Uni. Press

Upcoming in April 2015 by Wayne State Uni. Press

Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever been rejected for your work?

Kelly Fordon: So many times I cannot even begin to count! I have been rejected for both poetry and fiction more than two hundred times, I am sure!

Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your chapbook, “On The Street Where We Live”?

Kelly Fordon: For two years I studied with the poet, Vievee Francis, in a small café called Café 1923 in Hamtramck, Michigan. I had not written any poetry in many years; I was only writing fiction. But she was so inspiring, suddenly I started churning out poetry. She encouraged me to write about my own life. At the time I was deeply mired in raising four children and I was thinking a lot about the sacrifices I was making as a mother, as well as the sacrifices that were being made by women around me. Some people were happier about it than others. Also life was happening to everyone—marriages, divorces, good relationships and not, so I wrote about that and how I felt about it. I used to look out my window at the other houses up and down the street and wonder what was going on inside each one. In the poetry chapbook, I made up the answers to that question.

Geosi Gyasi: Your book, “On The Street Where We Live” won the 2011 Standing Rock Chapbook Contest. Tell us about this prize?

Kelly Fordon: The Standing Rock Chapbook Contest is a yearly competition offered by Standing Rock Cultural Arts in Kent, Ohio. The mission of the Standing Rock Cultural Arts Rock in the River Literary Series is to promote literary arts in the area and to promote local and national poets with publication. The series launched with the Premiere Standing Rock Open Poetry Chapbook Competition in July 2010. The series is currently edited by Tina Puckett.

Geosi Gyasi: Where did you get the inspiration to write “Tell Me When it Starts to Hurt”?

Kelly Fordon: I watched a porn video mostly because I had never watched one before and was curious about it. I was deeply disturbed by it. ( I think that may be an understatement!) At first I could not figure out why I was so perturbed, because I don’t consider myself a prude. After some thought I realized that it was because the women in the video were clearly under duress. They either seemed completely disengaged from what was happening to them, or they seemed to be pretending to enjoy things that in real life would not be pleasurable at all. I realized that I could not write a poem about being outraged by a porn video without sounding pedantic. At the same time I was thinking about this dilemma I listened to a science podcast about naked mole rats and when I learned that you can literally pour acid on a naked mole rat and it won’t feel it, it occurred to me that women in porn videos would be better off if they were naked mole rats. The church entered into the poem because the body of Christ is mentioned so often in the Catholic Church. Christ is also tortured by men, and I somehow conflated the violence done to Christ and the violence against these women. Both are perpetually on view (Jesus on the cross in every church) and both are termed beautiful “how beautiful is the body of Christ,” and I just got really upset thinking about it. Luckily when you write a poem you don’t have to have the answers to any of these things, you simply have to ask the questions. Why all of this violence? Why are men running the Catholic Church? Why are women subjugated in porn videos? Why would anyone pour acid on a naked mole rat?

Geosi Gyasi: Could you give us a glimpse of your yet-to-be published collection of linked short stories, “Garden for the Blind”?

Kelly Fordon: This description (below) is from the Wayne State University Press Catalog. The collection will be published in April 2015.

In Garden for the Blind, trouble lurks just outside the door for Kelly Fordon’s diverse yet interdependent characters. As a young girl growing up in an affluent suburb bordering Detroit, Alice Townley witnesses a tragic accident at her parents’ lavish party. In the years that follow, Alice is left mostly in the care of the household staff, free to forge friendships with other pampered and damaged teens. When she and her friend Mike decide to pin a crime on another student at their exclusive high school, the consequences will reverberate for years to come.

Set between 1974 and 2012, Fordon’s intricately woven stories follow Alice and Mike through high school, college, and into middle age, but also skillfully incorporate stories of their friends, family, acquaintences, and even strangers who are touched by the same themes of privilege, folly, neglect, and resilience. A WWII veteran sleepwalks out of his home at night, led by vivid flashbacks. A Buddhist monk is assaulted by a robber while seated in meditation. A teenaged girl is shot walking home from the corner store with a friend. A lifelong teacher of blind children is targeted by vandals at the school she founded.

Garden for the Blind visits suburban and working-class homes, hidden sanctuaries and dangerous neighborhoods, illustrating the connections between settings and relationships (whether close or distant) and the strange motivations that keep us moving forward. All readers of fiction will enjoy the nimble unfolding of Fordon’s narrative in this collection.

Geosi Gyasi: What do you mainly do as a writer-in-residence for Inside Out Literary Arts in Detroit?

Kelly Fordon: Based in Detroit and founded by the poet, Terry Blackhawk, Inside Out Literary Arts sends professional writers into the public schools to teach children about creative writing. I have taught third, fourth and fifth grades in two schools in Detroit and have loved every minute of it. Here is a link to learn more about Inside Out:

Geosi Gyasi: Do you regret ever becoming a writer?

Kelly Fordon: Never! I definitely regret not starting sooner though.


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