The interview appeared in the The Nevada Review on March 18, 2011
Our short interviews with authors are a way for us to help get the word out about great literary works dedicated to the state of Nevada in some sense, and also to try to shine more light on the authors who are writing them. This week we turn to Claire Vaye Watkins, a fascinating and talented writer of Nevada. Her bio says it better than I can: Claire Vaye Watkins is a Nevadan and a Presidential Fellow at the Ohio State University. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Granta, Ploughshares, One Story, The Paris Review and elsewhere. Her collection of short stories, Battleborn, is forthcoming from Riverhead Books. Take a moment to read her interview below and keep your eyes out for this powerful author in the future. If you look closely, you’ll see that as a bonus, there is an eleventh question in this edition of Ten Questions With…
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Where do you come from in Nevada? What’s your background?
I was born in Bishop, California. My parents lived in Tecopa, California, which is a tiny place of about 80 people on the southern edge of Death Valley. My father died of cancer when I was six, and soon after my mom remarried and moved our family to Pahrump. I went to school there, mostly. When I graduated I spent about a year in Los Angeles, working retail and drifting, then I went to UNR. After UNR I left the West for the first time to attend the MFA program at Ohio State University in Columbus.
In other interviews, you have described it as coming from a fairly libertarian place. What do you mean by that? How do you think that has impacted you as a writer? How has being from Nevada in general impacted you as a writer?
I just meant that politically Pahrump leans toward Libertarianism. People there are generally mistrustful of the government, and are especially inclined to adopt conspiracy theories. You have Art Bell, the Test Site, Area 51, chemtrails, and so on. Growing up hearing conspiracy theories sort of trained me, I think, to think of the world has having stories beneath the stories. They made me curious and skeptical. I’m still inclined to believe in conspiracies. Another way growing up in Pahrump has influenced my work is that I heard a lot of disturbing rumors when I lived there, many of which stayed with me and made their way into my stories. Like most kids who grow up poor or working class, I was exposed certain dark elements of human nature that come along with poverty—abuse, addiction, violence, neglect. I encountered those most often through gossip, which are the best kind of stories. For much of my life my mother and stepfather were in recovery, so I also grew up in the tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous, a league of terrific bullshitters who never shy away from grit in their stories.
Tell us about your forthcoming short story collection.
The stories in the book, Battleborn, all take place more or less in Nevada and they’re all about Nevadans ain some way or another. Whenever I began a new story I almost always started with the setting. I’d choose a place in the state I hadn’t written about yet—Virginia City, the Blackrock, Tahoe—and then I’d spend a lot of time thinking about the people who live there, what they saw when they woke up, what might be on their minds, what kind of trouble they might get themselves into.