A Conversation with Alison Turner
The former mining town of Clayton, Colorado, could catch fire any day. In the ten linked short stories of Defensible Spaces (October 2022), residents contend with the town’s history and current fire mitigation efforts—and strive to protect the parts of themselves that are flammable.
Alison Turner grew up in the mountains of Colorado, where she learned to endure large amounts of time in inclement weather waiting for buses. She is the co-host and co-creator of the When you are homeless podcast miniseries, and her creative work appears in Blue Mesa Review, Wordrunner eChapbooks, Little Patuxent Review, Meridian, and Bacopa Literary Review, among others. She lives in Denver, Colorado.
READ: Tell us about a book that shifted your perspective in some way, and/or made an impression on you.
I have re-read Ledfeather by Stephen Graham Jones more than any other novel, and with each read it becomes more complex and lovely. The novel escapes labels (is it a novel?), with the story moving between historical fiction and contemporary fiction, epistolary narrative and collection of short stories, and tragedy and satire. The story follows connections between an Indian agent in Blackfeet Indian territory in the late 1800s and a young man named Doby Saxon, born and raised on the same land that is now called Browning, Montana. The story is told by multiple narrators, none of whom hold the reader’s hand: Ledfeather readers need to stay alert, listen deeply, and trust uncertainty. What continues to intrigue me most about Ledfeather is how the structure of the text can be as confusing, disjointed, and interrupted as it needs to be, because the reader is hooked on Doby Saxon. Characters in the novel will do anything for Doby Saxon and all of his flaws, and the readers will, too. Each time I read this novel, I think, That is how to write a character.
REVEAL: What was revealed to you in the process of working on your book?
I better understood the characters in Defensible Spaces and the place where they live with every draft. Many of the people in this collection began as versions of friends, neighbors, and cool kids that I love, grew up with, or imagined growing up with, but with every draft they insisted on themselves as separate, whole people. It reminds me of how my friends and I used to assign each other roles from movies and shows to re-enact the social dynamics: who was which Care Bear, which Ninja Turtle, and, as we got older, which character from The Craft, Friends, or Sex and the City. When I began Defensible Spaces, I was playing the same game: Karly Krane is X person from my life, Bonnie Hadford is Z. But the more time I spent with the stories, the stronger the characters pulled on the ties to their likenesses until, when they knew I wasn’t looking, they cut the strings.
REEMERGE: What is feeding/nurturing you these days? What are you looking forward to or stepping in to?
In September of this year, my partner and I packed our two cats into a minivan and drove to the East Coast, where we will be working remotely for the next few months. This distance from Denver, where I have lived for the last decade, and Colorado, where I have spent most of my life, has been energizing—but only because I know that Colorado is where I will always be, one way or another.
Why Torrey House Press?
From the outside, as a browser, reader, and listener, I am impressed by how Torrey House Press focuses on their mission without being pedantic or self-righteous. Their focus on literature that advocates for environmental justice in the American West does not squish authors’ work into one form of advocacy but enters into the vast and various terrain of what advocacy is and can be.
As a new author with Torrey House Press, and thus somewhat on the “inside,” I feel this inviting focus as support. Torrey House Press does not cherry-pick work that fits into a mold for how to be in relationship with the American West, but supports authors as we imagine and communicate these relationships.