Paige Stetson is 16 years old, a lover of puns, and an avid thesaurus user. She spends her time making and listening to music, stressing over trivial matters, and petting her two benevolent dogs. As a newbie to the world of creative writing, she hopes you enjoy her first publication (“Ribbons,” winner of the Lungs Contest, in Issue Three)!
A Conversation with Paige Stetson
1. Your story “Ribbons” drips with vividness and metaphor, making it feel urgently real. However, as a fictional story, it also isn’t real in the most straightforward sense of the word. Where did the inspiration for “Ribbons” come from, and how do you view the role of truth and realism in the narrative?
I wrote “Ribbons” (very slowly) over a period of a couple months. The idea for it came to me really late at night as I was falling asleep. Having played the violin for years now, I have become accustomed to the emotion musicians encompass in their playing and found that an expressive performance could have the potential to parallel an emotional story. As for truth and realism, I feel that they are necessary, but do not need to be exaggerated. The narrative can magnify the truth found in the writers’ and readers’ life, but the rest can be left up to personal interpretation.
2. One of the greatest strengths of “Ribbons” is its musicality and lyricism. How does the way in which “Ribbons” was written reflect the content of the story, and how do you see it expanding upon or otherwise changing the content?
For my style of writing, I feel that the way I write and how I tell my story is often more important than the story itself. I wanted “Ribbons” to flow almost like a song, in order to adhere to that recurring theme. I wanted to evoke a more significant emotional response by writing with greater lyricism than usual.
3. Marriah noted that each word of “Ribbons” produces a visceral, emotional response in the reader, and yet the way the overall narrative interacts also deeply affects what the reader takes away from the piece. How do you see individual sentences and images interacting with the story as a whole?
I am a lover of words and think that individual words carry their own singular sense of beauty. By adding these words to sentences full of imagery and figurative language, a specific ambiance is created for the piece, which can be felt as the story is taken in. I write very methodically, word by word, because I have found that the seemingly small components of writing have a large influence on the piece’s entirety.
4. As you mention in your biography, “Ribbons” is your first published piece. Congratulations, by the way! As someone new to the realm of publishing, how do you view the relationship between the act of writing itself and the act of sharing that writing?
I have always loved writing, but sharing my writing was another story. I have only allowed my parents to read “Ribbons,” and that was after much coaxing on their part, so publishing is a huge step for me! Writing is such a personal process for me and I feel like I pour my soul into the pieces I create. I think that putting such a personal thing up for the potential of criticism can be a scary thing, especially if you are a very private person like myself. However, writing is meant to be shared and I think there is great potential to come from putting your stories out there.
5. How do you view the label of “teen writer” as affecting your philosophy or practice of writing?
It’s kind of funny because I haven’t thought of myself as a “teen writer” before. I just got into creative writing about 6 months ago, so this is all really new to me. Being a teen writer is basically the same as being a writer⎯just with a bit more angst. I find the label of “teen writer” to be a pretty special title and one that I must fully embrace while I still can (I’ll be an adult in a little over a year). However, I don’t see the idea of being a teen writer vanishing when I turn 18. As I grow older, I hope to have a blend of my “teen writing," “adult writing," and I guess even “child writing” by drawing on different experiences from various stages of my life.
6. What do you want to see more in the literary world?
I would love to see a broader range of perspectives in the literary world. A greater variety of cultures and individuals should have the opportunity to have their voices heard. I feel like, as readers and writers, we sometimes focus so much on the quality and technical intricacies of a piece that it detracts from its underlying purpose and message. Meaningful writing is crucial and powerful. Additionally, I personally feel like literary works that veer away from vulgarity allow for a greater burgeoning of creativity.
7. How do you imagine yourself creating what it is that you want to see or otherwise fitting into a larger literary tradition?
At the moment, I feel uncertain about the specifics of my future career. However, I would love to continue writing and have considered a future in journalism or editing. Right now I am the creative writing editor of a magazine and it has been such an incredible experience. A goal of mine is to write and publish a novel.
8. What images, scenes, or emotions do you find yourself repeating in your work? How would you define your writing aesthetic?
I usually consider myself an upbeat person, but somehow my writing can lean towards themes that are more somber and dark. It almost seems like my “alter ego” has evolved from writing. Oddly, I have found sadness and heartache to be some of the most beautiful themes to write about. I am obsessed with symbolism and always use an excessive amount of metaphors that I normally have to edit out later.
9. What advice would you have for other young writers?
I honestly don’t feel qualified to give other young writers advice! I am still shocked that my piece was selected! I guess if I can offer any piece of advice it would be to read continuously and from sources demonstrating diversity. I have gained so much inspiration just from simply reading, whether it is from a teen literary magazine, political article, or book for my English class. I would also like to highlight the significance of not comparing yourself to other writers. I know that this is a huge problem for me and has really made me doubt my own abilities and consider giving up on writing altogether⎯but don’t do it! The remarkable thing about writing is the individuality of the process and the creation of a collage of personal voices.