Q & A with author Kelly Davio

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Two days ago I posted a review of It's Just Nerves, a collection of essays on life and illness by Kelly Davio. It's truly a fabulous and entertaining book. As a follow-up, this is a Q&A I did with the author herself! She discusses her writing process, challenges, and future projects! Check it out here:

Q: When did you decide to write this book? What made you want to write it?
A: I didn’t really decide that It’s Just Nerves would be a book until well after I’d written
most of these essays, actually! I wrote the bulk of what’s in the collection over a
period of a few years, starting with “Strong is the New Sexy,” an essay that now
happens to be the opener of the collection. I thought at the time that I was dabbling
in nonfiction as a break from writing poetry (which is the medium in which I’d
always worked before). I felt like I wanted to explore these themes of illness and
disability in a way that poetry wasn’t suited to. I mean, how do you talk about what
it feels like not to be able to swallow in a poem without your reader assuming it’s a
weird metaphor?
Even as I was writing some of that content, I didn’t really expect to continue to work
in personal essays in an extensive way. But after that piece found a home in a
journal that I really loved, I began to get invitations from more and more editors
who were interested in publishing my work on the same themes, so I kept
producing more. I realized that there was something about this short nonfiction
form that really connected with people and fit a need that wasn’t being fulfilled by
other reading that was available to them, and I felt gratified to be able to speak into
that need. Eventually, I had a column, first at The Butter and later at Change Seven
Magazine, where I published these essays on a regular basis.
At some point, I looked at what I had written and thought that maybe it wouldn’t be
a bad idea to try to make a full-length collection out of some of the pieces I liked the
most, so I started to shop around for a publisher. I was incredibly happy to find a home for the book with Squares and Rebels; my editor, Raymond Luczak, shared my vision for what the book should be, and together we sorted out what essays I should include that would be original to this book and that would help it hang together as a whole.

Q: What is your general writing process?
A: I am a very slow writer. Glacial, really. It’s funny, because I spend most of my workday writing, and when I’m doing those day-job projects, I’m able to work quickly, even when I’m writing about tricky technical topics (like clinical research, for example). But when I’m working on essays like the ones in It’s Just Nerves, I’m writing to explore an idea, or even just to solidify an idea. So there’s a lot of staring at the blank page, writing 1,000 words, deleting 700 of them, starting over, and slowly creeping toward something like a full draft. Even if I end up hacking out a lot
of words, I don’t look at them as having been wasted—they’re all in service to the
eventual essay.

Q: What are the biggest challenges of writing a book, particularly one that's
nonfiction and includes research and personal info?
A: Combining research with personal narratives was absolutely the biggest challenge
with this book! It felt necessary to me to try, though, because it was a way out of
making the book just about me, and a way around making my experience into a
universal; I didn’t want the book to be this solipsistic experience where I navel-
gazed the whole way through, but I’m also keenly aware that my experience is just
one experience, and I don’t have the standing to speak on behalf of all sick or
disabled people. Contextualizing my story in this moment in national and
international politics and policy was a way to widen the viewfinder, I guess. I’m not
sure if I was wholly successful in the attempt, but I was interested in hybridizing the
personal and the public. Research also gave me something to pour myself into in the
days after Brexit and after the US election. I needed

that distraction from how I was
feeling about the chaotic spiral of the world.

Q: Do you foresee writing another book? If so, what might the topic be?
A: I have a few other books lying around my desk, yes! I have a second poetry
collection, The Book of the Unreal Woman, that’s coming out in 2019, and the topics
really merge with those of my essays. The poetry collection is mostly written in the
persona of the Unreal Woman (she’s part me, part antihero straight out of a
Flannery O’Connor short story). She says everything I’d like to say in my day to day
life, but can’t because I like to be civil. That book is kind of the unruly cousin to It’s
Just Nerves.
I also have 3 novels—all of which I’d classify somewhere in the bucket of literary
horror—that I’ve written. I haven’t done anything but litter the house with them,
though, so it’s probably time to start thinking about whether to send those out!
For the time being, I’m not writing much, just reading a great deal and waiting for a
next idea to form. I have a nascent idea for the next book, but it’s really swimming
around in the creative ooze right now.

Q: Anything else we should know?
A: If folks like It’s Just Nerves, I’d also recommend that they check out Sonya Huber,
Ariel Henley, Keah Brown, Alaina Leary, Meg Day, Jeannine Hall Gailey, and Tanya
Chernov, all of whom inspire me creatively and whom I really look up to as writers.

Book Review: It's Just Nerves

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It's Just Nerves by Kelly Davio
4/5 Synopsis:
With equal parts wit and empathy, lived experience and cultural criticism, Kelly Davio’s It’s Just Nerves: Notes on a Disability explores what it means to live with an illness in our contemporary culture, whether at home or abroad.

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This collection of essays is thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating. The essays are compact, expertly written, and full of personal anecdotes. Davio combines researched information with her own personal, often funny, sometimes challenging or painful experiences. Davio has an illness, but not one that's always apparent to those around her. She relates struggles with eating, reading, and going to the gym, all things that most would assume she could do with ease, but she finds challenging or sometimes impossible because of her very real, difficult to see or understand illness. In these short essays she explores the experiences of those who have an illness in our society, a society which can often prove to be very ableist and restricting.

Davio's perspective isn't one you find often in nonfiction writing, and her writing skill and engaging voice make it all the better. This is a short, educational, impactful book about an experience many choose to ignore or forget about altogether. Davio stands up for herself, makes fun of herself, and also extends certain expectations or hopes upon those in our culture who ignore or disbelieve people who have illnesses that cause challenges in everyday life.
This is a great book and one I definitely recommend. Each essay is a new insight that will offer you a better understanding, and, often times, might also make you laugh out loud on public transportation.

Please see the next post on my blog for a Q & A with the author of this book!

Book links: Goodreads, Amazon, Author website