Memory: Diane Cook

The Open Bar

From the current issue, and available to read online, Diane Cook’s “Moving On” is a cool, unsettling story of grief and starting over. We asked her a few questions about writing and reading.

Tin House: What was the biggest obstacle in writing this story?

Diane Cook: I had to wrestle this story from being just an interesting premise to being a real story with a character I could begin to understand. The first draft of the story was only five pages and it just set up the world, the place, and the stasis of the women there. Then, the women who run were introduced, and so, the idea that it is possible to try to fight for something. And the window friend showed up. But still, the narrator felt more like an observer watching this world with no clear desire of her own. In revision, she began to be curious about running and to act out a bit. Then she wrote the letter. That was the last new thing and to me it is the most important part of the story. This made it a real story about a woman in the midst of a struggle who acts how she would act. That resignation is her action felt honest to me, and dare I say, relatable.

TH: When you read this story in the future, what do you think you’ll associate with the period of writing it?

DC: When I wrote the story, I was thinking a lot about how my family had dealt with the death of my mother a couple years earlier. Or, specifically, how they’d all seemed to be able to move on with life while I couldn’t at all. Of course, we were all just dealing with it in different ways. But I kept feeling this outside pressure to be grateful for the time we’d had with her, when all I wanted to be was very, very angry and mournful about the time we’d never have again. Thoughts about this positive thinking grief culture and the pros and cons of moving on fueled the story at first. Then, of course, it shifted to be about more.

TH: Do you have any writing rituals?

DC: I always go for walks. Mostly one a day, but sometimes I’ll work myself up and have to go on two or three separate walks. This works best when I can walk in the woods or some other natural place. Things come to me as I walk and I’ll take notes on my phone which will get put into my computer later. I guess part of my ritual of writing is spending a large chunk of the time not actually sitting down to write.

TH: The last sentence you underlined in a book?

DC: I’ve been carting around a copy of [Edward Abbey’s] Desert Solitaire with me since college but didn’t read it until this January, when I spent a month in the desert. The book is radical, occasionally dated and silly, and a beautiful marvel. And though it’s dated in some ways, it feels very of the moment, for me anyway. I’m glad I read it now instead of when I was 20 and more of a poseur than a real thinker. I’m in the process of moving so the book is packed. But I had noted a line in my journal and according to the e-reader version it is a very underlined passage. Here is a bit:

“We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life get to Alaska, for example, but I am grateful that it’s there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope;…”

TH: What is the next story I should read?

DC: I really freaked out over Rebecca Curtis’s recent story in The New Yorker, “The Christmas Miracle.” I thought it was the most exciting story I’d read in a long time. I even made a loud noise when I got to the end, a noise like you might hear at a sporting event. I don’t remember the last time I whooped at a short story, if ever.

Diane Cook‘s debut collection, Man V. Nature, is forthcoming from HarperCollins. Her stories appear in Zoetrope, Harper’s, Redivider, and Guernica. She was a producer for This American Life.