A Chat with Erin Rose Belair

Erin Rose Belair graduated in 2016 with her MFA in Fiction from Boise State University. In the fall of 2016, she won the Glimmer Train New Writer Award and she was the Third Place winner of Narrative’s 2017 Winter Story Contest. A travel writer and blogger, she lives in Southern California, where she is working on her first novel. We caught up with Erin over email. 

Soon after graduating with your MFA from BSU, your short story "Rare Items from the Universe" won the Glimmer Train New Writer Award? What was it like workshopping that story at BSU? Do you think that process helped the story to win?

It did. I did! That was a great moment for me because I got the call right after I had left Boise and that was a big move at the time. I was on the side of the road somewhere in Nevada actually. And it was really encouraging to be out of the program and receive this recognition right away for what I did in the program. I took it as a sign to keep on going. I wrote “Rare Items” during my third year when Denis Johnson was there with us, and it was a really good semester for me. That story came out first draft pretty close to how it is right now, narrative-wise. Workshopping it was fun because I think we were all pretty excited about it and for me because it was different than what I had been doing but in a good way. It felt very me. The writer that I had become within the program all came forth in that story, and we could sense that. Of course, everyone had to help me clean it up because my drafts are always a mess. I would say it was less that specific workshop, but rather the culmination of all the ones before that made that story work.

What is your work as a travel writer like? What are some of the most interesting assignments you've had?

Travel writing is a dream. It's as good as it looks. Is that too honest? Haha. I'd actually say I'm more of a traveler and then because I'm a writer I write about it. I've been lucky enough to have really supportive editors and platforms where I can sell the work and they help direct me to places I might not have otherwise visited. But, I'd travel and write about it even if no one wanted to pay me. I think the most interesting place I've been since I graduated is Cuba. I went when the embargo was lifted and it was my first trip after leaving Boise, so I was just really ready to be split open by the world. And Cuba was a shock to my senses in the best of ways. The culture is as thick as the air down there, and the freeze frame of time that exists on the island is really unlike anything I've found anywhere else. I also recently was on assignment in the Dominican Republic working with Waves 4 Water, a clean water organization that implements water filters in areas that need access to clean water. That was life changing. I'll never travel without filters now and it's altered the way I see my impact and the potential of my effect on the places I visit. I was getting bored traveling—it's not enough to just go somewhere and see it and drink some rum. I mean that's fun and all, but I wanted to get closer to the places and the people I was learning so much from. 

What are your goals and plans for your fiction? What sort of projects do you have in the works?

So many goals. Too many goals and too many projects. I am actually going on traveling hiatus to focus more on producing rather than collecting. I just got a place by the beach and my plan is to hole up and get really boring for the next six months to finish the first shitty draft of my first novel that I've been talking about and "working on" for a while now. It's a hot mess, but I'm in love with it and that's more than half the battle (I think). I'm also submitting my short story collection to a few contests this year, hoping they do well. I'm currently finishing a screenplay that (cross your fingers) I plan to sell before the end of the year. Someday I'd love to publish a collection of nonfiction essays, most of them travel, but some other lessons mixed in as well. My big goal right now is to just get back to work, to stay in the room, and to do the less glamorous side of the writing. Which, is actually writing. 

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