Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Eliza Blair ’07 was recently named First Runner-Up in the Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing (previously known as the Isaac Asimov Award) for her short story, “Friends in Need.” The Daily Gazette recently interviewed Blair about her story and her writing process. Daily Gazette: What were your parents’ and friends reactions to the news about your award?
Eliza Blair: AAAAAAAAAAH! No, seriously. AAAAAAAAAAAAH! (And that was just my mom!).
DG: How long had you worked on the story? What’s it about?
EB: I came up with the concept for the story about three years ago, when I was a senior in high school and volunteering at my local animal shelter. The story is, at its most basic, about a little girl named Sally who has just turned four. Her parents take her to their local animal shelter to choose a birthday pet. However, this is not your average shelter Ã¢â‚¬“ all of the animals here have, at one point or another over the past year, spontaneously and mysteriously gained the ability to speak. Nobody knows how or why this is happening, but it becomes clear by the end of the story that even the adults in this world are baffled as to how to deal with this phenomenon. The well-intentioned efforts of the head of the shelter, Gracie, are offset by the vituperative ramblings of Maximus, an orange tabby cat and self-styled revolutionary. In my mind, the story is really about Sally’s introverted mental landscape growing a little bigger in the face of incipient social change, and Sally beginning to come to terms with the fact that the world is not always as happy a place as she has been led to believe.
DG: Do you write stories often? Do you write during the school year, or mostly on breaks?
EB: I love to write, but as a Swarthmore Physics major I don’t have much time during the school year to do so. I’ve tried to combat this by taking classes such as Fiction Workshop (stories = homework!) with some success, and I’ve enjoyed them so much that I plan to minor in Creative Writing.
DG: How long have you been writing?
EB: I didn’t write much as a kid, but after I discovered poetry as a middle-schooler, I began to try my hand at various styles. The summer after I turned eleven I spent three months in front of the computer banging out a forty-page novella (single spaced, size 10 font) titled “Dragon Man”, of which I was very proud. It was horrible, of course, but nobody had the heart to tell me. Luckily the manuscript was lost forever after my backup floppy disk got corrupted. There are some things I could never live down.
DG: Any other random tidbits or thoughts you’d like to add?
EB: I’ve met plenty of folks over the years who love to write, but are afraid to show anyone their work or submit for publication because it “isn’t good enough”, or because “so many people are better than me”. I did the same thing for a long time, but eventually realized (after years of doing it the hard way) that the only way to improve is to ask others’ advice. A succession of English teachers, friends, and patient magazine editors, as well as my extremely understanding parents, have made me a much better writer, and there is no way that I can ever thank them enough. So I say to you, the writer, that leaving your creations in a box in your closet is simply Not Allowed. There are thousands of publications out there, both in print and on the internet, which would love to see your work. Ask a friend what they think, and tell them to be blunt. Even better, join a writing class or an online group such as Critters (http://critters.org) which will help you figure out your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.