At Cambridge Common Writers, we are immensely proud of our community members. In response to the recent increase in violence and hate speech directed towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, we want to highlight the accomplishments of our Asian American and Pacific Islander alums. Our Spotlight series continues in celebration of AAPI Heritage Month — come get to know these very talented alums and learn about their writing lives.
MARGARET F. CHEN — FICTION, June ’20
Margaret F. Chen is the author of two short story collections, Three Terrible Tales and Suburban Gothic, both independently published through Opus of Politics and Prose Bookstores. Suburban Gothic earned an Indie Kirkus Star and includes several previously published stories from a variety of literary journals. Margaret grew up in Iowa, where she sledded down hills during the winters, hung out at the pool during the summers, scribbled stories and read books in secret whenever she could, and hid under her bed at night with the crickets and mice in a creepy basement bedroom.
Why do you write and what do you like to write about the most?
I write because it is my way of processing trauma and problematic situations. Isak Dinesen said, “All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story.” I definitely believe this! But to go further, sorrows in storytelling can also be transformed into something interesting and different…not just repeated or left in its original (sometimes awful and unbearable) state. Fairy tales, for example (which I love and enjoy writing the most), often contain violent, horrible, or at least, unpleasant characters and events, but the entirety itself is a work of beauty. It is the alchemy of storytelling, transforming ordinary life into treasure (or at least, a fascinating adventure or charming garden). Anyway, I try my best to observe and recreate what’s going on around me, turn what disturbs and mystifies me into something different, more fun, or exciting.
Do you have any writing routines or traditions to help inspire creativity?
I don’t have any writing routines, although I believe in them. Currently I write whenever I can, but my ideal would be to work from 9 to 1 pm and then a little in the evening (before a delicious, candle-lit, late dinner, of course…)
What is one book you wish you had written?
I don’t wish to have written any of my favorite books, as they would no longer be a source of constant surprise and joy….
What is something that tends to get in the way of your writing and how do you overcome it?
Many things get in the way of my writing…the most long-standing and difficult would be my own self-doubt. Then, there are the usual suspects of laziness, daily distractions, responsibilities, emergencies…all of them. I don’t know if I can or have really overcome them…things get written when the urge to write is stronger than the pull of everything else…
Which parts of the Lesley MFA program do you miss, now that you’re writing on your own time?
I miss hanging out at Cambridge Common with my friends and for Tony’s small group.
If you could get coffee with any writer (dead or alive) who would it be and why?
Isak Dinesen, who is my favorite author, but I’d probably be too intimidated to say anything.
Tell us a fun fact about yourself that doesn’t have to do with writing.
I’ve been thrown from a motorcycle twice? Maybe that’s more frightening than fun.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on two novels, and revising the short stories from my thesis.
Listen to Margaret read an excerpt from “The Man With the Cartier Watch,” from her short story collection Suburban Gothic.