KR Conversations

Ariel Delgado Dixon

Photo of Ariel Delgado DixonAriel Delgado Dixon was born and raised in Trenton, New Jersey. In 2016 she was shortlisted for the Masters Review Anthology Prize, and her work now appears in their New Voices series. Her work has also been highlighted by Ploughshares’ “The Best Short Story I Read This Month” online feature, and she was a 2017 nominee for the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Award for Emerging Writers. She currently resides in Idaho where she is earning an MFA in fiction from Boise State University. An excerpt from her story “Please Be Sure” can be found here. It appears in the July/Aug 2019 issue of the Kenyon Review.

You establish a sense of transience from the opening lines, in which we learn the protagonist has taken several jobs house-sitting. How did you decide on this line of work for her? Is there a specific aspect of house-sitting you especially wanted to write about?

During one especially broke summer in LA, I concocted a side hustle so I could make ends meet. I lived in a rent-controlled one-bedroom in Echo Park that I’d rent out here and there, while simultaneously pet-sitting at strangers’ houses across Northeast LA so I had a place to sleep. Basically, I was double-dipping in the gig economy. I spent a lot of time juggling strangers’ keys, cuddling and cleaning up after their pets, showering in their showers, sleeping in their beds—while waiting for some stranger to get out of mine. It was also the summer I developed an ulcer and knew it was time to leave California. That’s the thing about side hustles: the hustle.

I wanted to write a story set in LA. It just so happened when I started writing about the city, out came this wannabe actress, and the first place she appeared was in some fancy stranger’s house, living like an extra, trying both to reconjure and to forget the place she’s from. We move from house to house as the story progresses, and I think multiple locations give the story some structure and forward momentum, especially since so much takes place in the main character’s head or the past.

One of the most impressive feats in your story is an improvised scene about salmon swimming upstream. The “Eagle! Eagle!” line is initially hilarious and suddenly heart-wrenching. Can you speak to your experience writing either one of these extremes—humor or sadness? Are there any writers you can recommend who write in this tradition as well?

Thank you for the compliment. I don’t usually intend to play things one way or the other, but as in life, humor and sadness merge more often than not. Sometimes there is nothing more preposterous and absurd than heartache. People do and say the oddest things when under the bizarre duress of loss.

When I consider my personal canon, there are a few writers in particular that I think of as masterful cross-pollinators in this regard. I think of Ottessa Moshfegh, Sheila Heti, Helen Oyeyemi, Camille Bordas, and Sigrid Nunez, to name only a few. A spectacular example is the writer Joy Williams, who weaves reverence and irreverence like nobody’s business. And to hear her read her own work is basically a comedy show, though you may also weep.

What is either the best or the worst piece of writing advice you’ve received or given? 

This wasn’t something said to me directly, but has proven most useful as of late. Finish. It’s far easier to venture a few pages into a draft or hop around and write snippets of a story indefinitely—and it makes you feel good, and it’s not bad work! But I don’t truly know what I’m working with until I have a first draft in my hands. It’s only when I’ve reached the end that I get a sense for movement and recurring threads and subtext, all the opportunities within. And the rewriting process isn’t without creative magic and happenstance either, even if it may seem less sexy.

Which non-writing-related aspect of your life most influences your writing? 

I’m pretty proud of my home state of New Jersey. Lots of unusual people, history, and customs in the Garden State. Most of my family and lifelong friends are there, so that’s a big influence. Also, my mother is Puerto Rican and I grew up quite close with that side of the family, so of course Boricua heritage is embedded in all things. I used to play music quite a bit when I was younger, and that seems to pop up in my writing regularly. I like building playlists around stories and chapters to construct an atmosphere. Almost always I encounter a lyric or melody that speaks to the story or a character in an unexpected way.

What project(s) are you working on now, or next? 

I’m currently finishing up a draft of my novel, called The Myth Belongs to Me. I’m on track to finish it by the end of this summer—fingers crossed. I also have a short story about #vanlife called “The Big Country,” which will be out this fall with The Greensboro Review. As always, I’m trying to write and read and stay off Twitter every day.