Sandra Hunter’s fiction won the 2017 Leapfrog Press Fiction Contest, 2016 Gold Line Press Chapbook Prize, October 2014 Africa Book Club Award, and three Pushcart Prize nominations. Her story “Finger Popping” won second place in the 2017 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. Her story collection Trip Wires was published in June 2018, the chapbook Small Change was published in August 2016, and her debut novel Losing Touch was published in 2014. She’s just finished her second novel, THE GEOGRAPHY OF KITCHEN TABLES, set in post-apartheid South Africa, and is working on the sequel, FISSURES OF MEN. She is a 2018 Hawthornden Castle Fellow and the 2017 Charlotte Sheedy Fellow at the MacDowell Colony. Sandra Hunter lives in Ventura, California where she teaches English and Creative Writing and runs writing workshops in Ventura and Los Angeles. Favourite dessert: Angry Samoa from Donut Friend.

Kathy Mak: What was it like working with the editors of Nimrod?

Sandra Hunter: The editors were incredibly supportive and thoroughly professional. They kept me up to date throughout the entire process. I’ve been part of competitions where I’ve received adequate information and updates but Nimrod’s editors go above and beyond the norm. I’m a huge fan of Eilis and Cassidy!

Kathy Mak:  Did the editors change anything in your piece? If so, what?

Sandra Hunger: They didn’t change anything.

Kathy Mak: Did you do anything differently when you submitted to Nimrod after past rejections?

Sandra Hunter: No, I didn’t. This story went out to a number of different competitions—so, a simultaneous submission. It was short-listed at a couple of other places. Something I learned that may be useful for you and other students who are learning how to submit your work: When I heard that “Finger Popping” had placed 2nd, I immediately prepared to withdraw it from other competitions. This is what you do—as soon as you hear your piece has been accepted for publication, you take it out of circulation. Here’s the interesting part: I heard back from one competition that I should leave the story in their competition in case it placed. When a story receives an honourable mention, or wins 3rd or 4th place, or is a finalist—that’s all that happens. You get the “glory” of being a finalist and it does look great on your résumé but there’s no publication! So, I left it in that competition and wrote a polite email to the other competitions. I told them that the story would be published in Nimrod, and asked whether I might leave it in their competition in case it placed. A few editors wrote back and said they’d prefer me to withdraw the story. But four said I could leave it in! How about that?! So, the rule is—there are no rules!

Kathy Mak: What triggered you to start writing/to start your writing career?

Sandra Hunter: Being lonely. I used to imagine conversations between people on my way to school when I was little. I think that’s how I developed voice. It wasn’t until I was doing my post-grad in Creative Writing that I realized I was a writer. I’d taken a semester off to research in India for a play I was writing for my thesis. My father used to spend four to six months a year as a counsellor in a small college in Pune (just outside Mumbai. I spent a month with him—I had a very understanding tutor to whom I sent postcards wherever I went (the Himalayas, Taj Mahal et al). But the culture shock was literally that—shocking! This was back in the 90s. I don’t know how much has changed but even in the cities, you couldn’t go around—as a woman—unaccompanied. I can’t begin to describe how burdensome that was. Every dang place I went, I had a posse with me. If I walked to the corner of the campus to get a dress altered, I had two or three students with me. I couldn’t walk to breakfast in the morning—even though it was a short walk across the campus. I had to go outside the house, sit on a rock, and wait for my peeps to collect me. When I wanted to buy a rug in Pune, I had a crew of eight—and I wasn’t allowed to handle the money! I had to sit like a queen pointing at colours and patterns I liked. The business transaction was handled by one of the students. We made a great show of sweeping out dramatically several times before we reached an agreement on a price. (We bargain for virtually everything in India.) Anyway, back to the point: It was as I was walking to the river to dump the empty bottles of whiskey (filled with water) to cover up my father’s little passion for local brew, that I realized I was a writer. It was such a strange thing to say out loud. You try it: I’m a writer. It feels so weird and oddly embarrassing. I’ve overcome the embarrassment though! Having a baby in 1999 put a stop to playwriting. You can’t go on tour with the theatre cast and crew with a newborn. That’s when I changed over to fiction. It was very slow. As anyone can tell you, having a child—or children—kicks your writing career in the vitals. Once my daughter was older, though, I was able to carve out little bits of writing time. That’s when it made sense to write short stories. Also, I wrote down a lot of what she said as a baby/small girl and kept it in a file—I love how little kids reduce everything to nouns and verbs. I pillage that file shamelessly for character development. I didn’t attempt a novel until my daughter was much older. Women are amazing at prioritizing!

Kathy Mak: How do you find inspiration to write and create?

Sandra Hunter: Finding inspiration: I listen to the radio and become absolutely enraged by social injustice issues. That’s what led to “Finger Popping” – this administration’s insistence on building a wall and seeing the prototypes on YouTube. If you have a chance to look at my collection Trip Wires (just out!) you’ll see that all the stories have young people or children as narrators, as they are in “Finger Popping”, and all of the situations involve immigrants, refugees, someone who’s been kidnapped, etc. After the initial anger comes an incubation period where the character’s voices begin to develop. They dictate the direction of the story. I’m also a visual artist, working with the intersections of liminal spaces—a lot of ice and water pics! I overlay those close-up shots with deconstructed text. This is such a different process to writing that’s heavily crafted and controlled. I love the spaces where it seems impossible for anything to become—like the dialogue between ice and water. They argue with each other but together they create something uniquely exquisite.

Kathy Mak is an emerging writer who hopes to see her work in print one day. She recently completed the Lit Mag Love course. Currently, she is taking an online fiction course with the University of Iowa. She lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.