Writers on a Boat: Eireene Nealand and Eva Barrows Talk Writing

Pillar Point Harbor, Half Moon Bay, CA
Part 1 of a 2 Part Series

The bay sparkles. Clear blue skies overhead and fishing boats flit across the calm water. Eireene Nealand and I take over her sister’s green sail boat docked at Pillar Point Harbor in Half Moon Bay, CA.

We tell ourselves that we’re actually going to do some writing once we get inside. Eireene takes my bag of crab cake sandwich and fries so I can keep my balance stepping onto the back of the boat. She assures me I won’t fall in the water.

Eva Getting Used to Boat

She unlocks the cabin hatch, slides it back and moves the ceiling panel so we can make our way inside. We sit across from each other on padded benches with a multi-use pop-up table between us. Eireene heats up water in the micro kitchen lining one side of the cabin. She sips tea and I eat my lunch.

The boat gently sways back and forth. I take out my digital voice recorder. She agrees to an impromptu interview. For a little context, Eireene is a poet, short story writer, European language translator and holds a Ph.D in Literature and MFA in Creative Writing. So, I have lots of questions for her as I’m in awe of her resume.

I start with the basics.

Siege of Leningrad and the Office Breakroom

Eva: What’s your favorite type of project to write?

Eireene: I like writing weird connections with history. I wrote a story about Lake Ladoga the Siege of Leningrad. It was about a girl in California who felt she was suffering then she learned about the Siege of Leningrad and was like “Wow my life’s not so bad!”

I like writing weird connections with history.

Eva: Do you fantasize about Eastern Europe?

Eireene: I did fantasize about the Communist Revolution when I was younger. But then I went and visited and found it wasn’t so romantic.

I did a whole story about that. It was really great that people had a big dream and the big dream had a lot of awful things to it. But how much worse would it be if there was no big dream and there was just awfulness?

Eireene: What do you write about?

Eva: I try to write about something that’s happened to me. I blow it out of proportion like a Seinfeld episode.

Eireene: Do you stay away from politics?

Eva: I keep it casual. In, The Birthday Committee, which is a funny story, I have a character in the office breakroom and she’s watching CNN and it shows a bomb going off in Syria. It’s not really a comment on Syria it’s a comment to the story. It’s a war zone in the breakroom.

Eireene: What kind of settings do you like to write about?

Eva: Things I’m familiar with. A lot of my writing has been about things that’ve made me mad. I want to go back and reinvent the moment. Become empowered in some way. It’s never a big deal. It’s just something that’s bothered me. The settings are small and familiar, the breakroom at work, the college campus out in the back fields, a coffee shop confrontation.

Eireene Not Reading

A Family of Characters

Eireene: It’s interesting a lot of other people have written about my family but they do it in a completely different way than I would do it. They draw on all of these hippie stereo types.

Eva: How many articles have there been?

Eireene: There’s been two major ones about the idea of a hippie family. I think they do a really good job. A better one than I could do. I can’t get at real life directly. It seems like you’re closer to real life.

Eva: I write about my husband a lot. Like things he does that influence me. He’s usually like “oh god you’re writing about that?” I’m not writing deeply about myself, kind of expressing myself.

He’s the other character in my life.

Eireene: I notice a lot of writers have this break-through moment when they fall in love and write about the other person.

Eva: But I’m not even gushing about him though.

Eireene: Yeah you’re just tracking his behavior. You’re noticing him a lot because you’re happy. One day I aspire to write that kind of story.

Eva: He’s the other character in my life.

**More of our discussion will be posted on the blog next week. Come back to find out how two different writers approach structure in writing.

Eireene Nealand’s stories, poems and translations have appeared in ZYZZYVAChicago Quarterly, Drunken Boat, Poetry International, CatamaranSidebrowWHR elimae, and The St. Petersburg Review, among other places. Her work has received multiple awards including a Fulbright Fellowship in Creative Writing, an Elizabeth Kosova Fellowship, and an Ivan Klima Fellowship. To her degrees from UC Berkeley and San Francisco State, she recently added a Ph.D. in Literature from UC Santa Cruz, where she studied proprioception, a neurobiological phenomenon that allows us to see textures and shifts. She currently lives in Santa Cruz, where she writes and translates Russian, Bulgarian and French prose and poetry.

Eva Barrows is a San Francisco Bay Area freelance writer. Eva writes about local places, people and events on her website www.evabarrows.com. She founded the online literary journal Imitation Fruit www.imitationfruit.com in 2007 and has enjoyed promoting fellow writers and artists ever since. Her writing has appeared in the California Writer’s Club, Fault Zone Uplift anthology, and the San Mateo County Fair’s, Carry the Light fair winner collection.

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