Readers, meet another of the contributor’s to (Her)oics:Women’s Lived Experiences During the Coronavirus Pandemic, Nikki Kallio. Nikki’s writing is rich and lyrical. Her essay in the anthology, Cold Front, gives us a glimpse into her experience of facing the pandemic in the Midwest with her parents, having recently finished cancer treatments.
Nikki’s creative work has appeared in Minerva Rising, Midwestern Gothic and elsewhere, and her novella “The Fledgling” was shortlisted in the 2018 unsolicited novella contest hosted by Brain Mill Press. She has an MFA from Goddard College and has led workshops for The Mill: A Place for Writers, the Untitled Town Book & Author Festival and for Wide Open Writing, a retreat organization that has brought writers to Tuscany, Morocco and Mexico. She worked as a newspaper journalist on both coasts before coming home to Wisconsin, where she is now a freelance writer, editor and instructor. Below is Nikki’s Q and A.
Hi Nikki, great to have you “on” the blog. The style of your essay is very lyrical. Can you tell us what essay or memoir writers you like to read?
I’m always interested in reading about other people and their experiences, those that are similar and different from my own, which is one of the reasons I’m so excited to be a part of the (Her)oics anthology. I adore the essays of Meghan Daum – she has a way of accurately describing the murky place where conflicting emotions converge. Roxane Gay for her raw and painfully beautiful writing. Beth Ann Fennelly’s “Heating and Cooling – 52 Micro-Memoirs” for her ability to capture life in powerful vignettes. And graphic memoirs, a la Alison Bechtel and Marjane Satrapi.
You’ve had a great career with rich experiences –what was one of your favorites?
At the risk of being promotional, I get so much from writing retreats, including the one I work with (wideopenwriting.com). Not just ours. It’s always valuable to me to step away from “regular life” and have that time and space to focus solely on creativity and to be around other people wanting to do the same. Traveling to a beautiful place helps – not only for the idea of being inspired by your surroundings, but because you’re removing yourself from your daily routine in a big way, shaking off the dust of inertia. Wide Open Writing just introduced the Quinn Alexandra Scholarship to help bring one womxn per year to a retreat, once the pandemic is over.
Where do you see your writing going next? Any firm plans or upcoming publications?
I’m always working on one project or another, and I tend to gravitate toward writing in a literary-genre hybrid. I grew up with sci-fi stories and mysteries. While I was working on my MFA, I concentrated on post-apocalyptic works, both writing my own and studying others, particularly the theme of “staying or leaving” and the consequences or benefits of making the choice. Recently, I’ve been working on a climate fiction (cli-fi) novel in vignette form—which now seems more than urgent. I’m also finishing a sci-fi about an alien who has the ability to leave her body. This developed out of my illness, because in the middle of seemingly endless treatments, you can start to feel like you’re trapped inside your body.
What is the theme in your piece (grief, love, hope, etc.) and how does it come through? Is that an ongoing theme in your work?
My essay is centered largely on anxiety – the growing tension felt by the quickly spiraling pandemic and lack of adequate national leadership – coupled with the difficulty of managing anxiety after completing treatment for ovarian cancer. Recovery can be emotionally rocky to navigate as it is – there are fears of recurrence and “scan-xiety” that come with ongoing checkups, uncertainty about what life will bring next, and worry about regaining the energy and momentum you had before the diagnosis. When the entire world is in a panic, it’s tough to separate what’s internal and what’s external. Writing is a way to process those fears.
Can you imagine this piece developing into a larger work?
Possibly. I’m mainly a fiction writer these days, but it feels like there’s a lot to say about the world and what’s going on, whether we’re talking about the pandemic, racial justice, climate change, or the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. I’ve tried to keep a journal, and while there are days where I don’t write much, I try to at least record a sentence or two about what’s happening in my life or the greater world. The pandemic is strange and difficult for many reasons, but for someone like me who has been largely at home and isolating, it feels like I’m watching through a window as the world comes apart. And not much of it is a surprise. If I do expand my work, I hope I can do in a way that’s valuable to someone other than myself.
Nikki Kallio will be reading at our event:
Meditation, Music, Reading and a Little Magic!
April 11, 2021 1:00 PM PST, 4:00 PM EST
Our Launch Day Event, March 11, will be hosted by Regal House Publishing on their Book Spiel virtual platform. Register Here for March 11, 4:00 PST.
Come to either or both to hear a bit about the anthology’s “birth” from editor Joanell Serra and meet six of our contributors, who will read short excerpts of their essays. Different readers at each event! Click here for more details on all the events.