Rachel Sherman holds an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. Her short stories have appeared in McSweeney's, Fence, Open City, Conjunctions and n+1, among other publications. Her first book, The First Hurt, was short-listed for the Story Prize and the Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and was named one of the 25 Books to Remember in 2006 by the New York Public Library. Her first novel, Living Room, was released in 2009, also to broad critical acclaim. She teaches writing at Rutgers and Columbia Universities, and leads the Ditmas Writing Workshops. She blogs for the Parenting Section of The Huffington Post and is the "Fiction Expert" for About.com.
Loren Kleinman (LK): In The First Hurt you write about the sexual awakening of an adolescent girl. Do you think that sex or understanding our own sexuality has the power to reveal our true self to ourselves? How can sex liberate women? How does it also have the power to hurt us?
Rachel Sherman (RS): Adolescence is a second beginning. It is the largest change a person has in their lives, up until then. Suddenly, everything is new. It is the integration of a much needed part. But it is only the start. As we grow our sexuality transforms (hopefully). The thing that makes adolescence so fascinating is the newness, the confusion, the information and emotion and physical sense that feels both part of oneself and completely foreign. A teenager has to navigate, as if with a new appendage that no one can see. Part of being a teenager is hiding it; another part is learning what to do with it. Sex can be anything to a woman: liberating, healing, hurting... Adolescence takes all the things that have happened in our childhood and works them out in this new way, sometimes sexually. I find this fascinating.
LK: I identify with stories that focus on love, specifically, stories that contrast the idea of love with its reality. Can writing about love be an uncomfortable experience? Can reading about love be uncomfortable?
RS: I don't find reading about love uncomfortable, but I suppose it is a feeling that is not uncomfortable to me. That said, the writing that I'm reading must be believable (I feel uncomfortable reading bad writing...). Writing about love: I feel similarly to how I feel to writing about anything. It feels intuitive, part of the characters, part of me...
LK: Talk about your main character in The First Hurt. Are there pieces of Rachel Sherman in there? Do you have a relationship with many of your characters from the short story to the novel?
RS: There are a number of different characters in The First Hurt, although many of them do share similar characteristics. Of course, there are pieces of me in everything I write -- and because I write mostly about women, experience is certainly part of what goes in to my process. However, I also have an imagination. I understand the feelings my characters have, but the things that happen to them are fictional.
LK: Do you feel a sense of defeat or exhilaration when you've been rejected? Does rejection motivate you or paralyze you? How can writers retaliate against the boundary rejection can impose on them?
RS: I don't let it get to me too much. I can often see the flaws, and understand the editor's reasons. Perhaps that's not a good thing. I'm not sure.
LK: Do you believe you are tenacious? Why? Why not? And how important is this characteristic to achieving a successful writing career?
RS: I believe that I am pursuing what I always wanted to. Sometimes -- when I am not writing -- I feel less successful, but I never doubt my being a writer. I think that part of being a writer is doing the work -- it is not just having talent. Sometimes I feel less like doing the work, and this is when I have to push myself. So, yes, I think it's extremely important.
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