Q&A with Melissa Goodrich & Dana Diehl, authors of “Somedays the Bees Are Melancholic”
Bix Gabriel: I’m so intrigued that you collaborated and write stories like Somedays the Bees Are Melancholic together! How did you get started? How does it work? Why do it?!
Melissa Goodrich: I started this story, and I remember beginning with this feeling of being completely overwhelmed. This happens a lot as an elementary teacher — like there are hundreds of arrows coming at you all at once, and you are supposed to iron out your anxiety and come to each day warm and patient and refreshed and with rainbow poster boards of inspiration. So, when I started writing this story, I was trying to get that feeling out of my body — writing was a way to ventilate. Working in an elementary school is not unlike being encased in a swarm. It’s always buzzing. It’s like a massive, single organism with a billion moving, stinging parts.
Dana Diehl: We started collaborating during my first year of teaching primary (Melissa’s second). We both felt like our work/art balance was off. We were spending too much of our creative energy on Power Points and worksheets, and we had to find a way to reincorporate writing into our lives. So, we started sending each other prompts at work. Silly little writing prompts that we challenged each other to respond to in the ten or so minutes we had off in the middle of the day. We couldn’t edit ourselves, because we didn’t have time. The idea to collaborate was practical (we felt overwhelmed and busy, but maybe with our POWERS COMBINED we could create something), but it was also based on our trust for each other and complete love of each other’s work.
BG: One of my favorite things about Somedays the Bees Are Melancholic is the prose really made me feel how exhausted the protagonist is, but it’s all through her tone, which I think is really hard to pull off. Can you talk about how much time/work you put into developing that tone…? Or did it all come naturally? If the latter, what is tough for you in writing and what are your tips/tricks/techniques for dealing with it?
MG: This story developed out of genuine exhaustion. It’s a teacher thing. It’s the weight of the day and the next day and the next, a mountain of Mondays and Tuesdays. So for me this feeling was very easy to access because I was battling it on a daily basis. Much as I love teaching fourth graders — there are days I feel completely decimated. I had a teaching colleague who would sometimes encourage me to escape the building, for even an hour lunch, and we would stare at the mountains and laugh about, “What would happen if we just drove up to the top of Mount Lemmon? I mean…what would they even do?” This piece was a fun way to explore those feelings and indulge the fantasy of just taking off.
DD: I agree! For me, accessing the voice was about indulging the fear and insecurity that overwhelms me when there is a student I can’t connect with, for whom I can’t figure out how to make things “click.” Writing about this fear made it more okay, somehow. Usually, though, finding the voice of a character is more difficult for me. I usually agonize over the first few pages of a story, trying to find the tone that is just right. Usually what helps me is finding what I have in common with my character. Which side of my personality do they represent? What would I sound like if let that side of my personality take over, what if I gave it a voice?
BG: I understand that you both teach primary school. If it does, how does your teaching inform your writing.
DD: Primary schools are kind of magical places. Sometimes the floors turn to lava. The space under the desks turn into caves. The stools at the back table become X-wing starfighters. Schools are full of locked doors that could hide anything: secret classrooms, swimming pools for teachers only. Even the students aren’t what they seem. They live secret lives as spies or Hogwarts students. We are inspired by our own memories of primary school, but we are also inspired by how our space is transformed by the imaginations of our students. Schools are miniature, contained worlds that develop their own mythologies. It’s hard not to be inspired by them.
MG: Absolutely! And, additionally, our young students have an incredible knack for poetic, exploratory thought. My students have said things like, “All the clocks have stopped working inside their bodies,” and “Not one listened to her. She felt like a marionette in this house” — and they have left me open-jawed and humbled by the way they approach language and their worlds.
BG: What’s something you tell your primary school students that you want to tell adults too?
DD: Don’t take everything personally. Also: It’s okay and normal to be upset sometimes. Also: Please sneeze into your elbow, never into your hand.
MG: Nerds are the best! Poetry is delicious! And: Take a breath…everything’s going to be okay.
Melissa Goodrich is the author of Daughters of Monsters. She received her BA in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University and her MFA in Fiction from the University of Arizona. She has taught creative writing, composition, and humanities at the University of Arizona and BASIS.
Dana Diehl is an author and teacher in Tucson. She earned her MFA in Fiction from Arizona State University, where she also served as editor of Hayden’s Ferry Review. She has taught at ASU, the National University of Singapore, the Arizona State Prison Complex in Florence, and Basis Primary. She is the author of Our Dreams Might Align (2016), and her work has appeared in North American Review, Passages North, Necessary Fiction, and elsewhere.