Embracing the Gap: An Interview with Alix Ohlin

Alix Ohlin is the author of two novels – Inside and The Missing Person – and two collections of short stories – Signs and Wonders and Babylon and Other Stories. More of her work can be found in Best American Short Stories and elsewhere. Although she was born in Montreal, she currently resides in Pennsylvania, teaching at both Lafayette College and in the Warren Wilson MFA Program for writers.

The Fourth River: What’s your writing process like? How do you go about telling your stories?

Alix Ohlin: All writing begins and ends in failure, and that embracing failure is the most important step a writer can take. I always have this vision in my head – this idea that “Oh, this book is going to be amazing!” – but the distance between what I wanted to do and what I wanted to accomplish is vast. And I can work on the draft as much as I possibly can but, inevitably, it never gets close to where I wanted it to be. You never finish, you just abandon and move on to the next thing. So, for me, another crucial part of the writing process is reading, because it reminds me of what great writing can be and can do. When I look at my own work, all I can see are the flaws and all the things that didn’t come through. But when I look at someone else’s work and see what they were able to do, I try to write back to that, or write an imitation of that, or write out of love of that.

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