Q&A with Featured Writer Charlie J. Stephens

Our newest Featured Writer, from our forthcoming Issue 9, is one we’re excited for you to meet. In fact, you can read Charlie J. Stephens’ stunning short story “Willamette” on our website right now—a tale of blue-collar familial relationships and sexual discoveries that bursts into flames like a gas fire. We asked Charlie a few questions about writing, and the responses did not disappoint.

When did you start writing?

I’ve always written little stories, kid stuff, but I started keeping a journal in middle school. That continued into high school where I started writing more creatively—mostly stories, poems, and very earnest love letters. After high school I started self-publishing zines of my stories and personal essays.

Why do you write?

I write because it helps me get all the feelings, happenings, juxtapositions, and conflicts —within my experience and beyond me—down in a way that helps me make meaning of being alive.

What poets and writers do you read?

I love poetry by Ocean Vuong, Danez Smith, Mary Oliver, Susan Maeder, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Justin Chin. Favorite fiction writers are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Toni Morrison, John Steinbeck, Mark Ali, Isabel Allende, Christopher Isherwood, James Baldwin, Hanya Yanagihara, Melinda Moustakis, Mariana Enriquez, and Dorothy Allison.

What’s your writing process?

I work to keep track of memories, anecdotes, and scenes from near and afar, and then jot them down. These become the foundations for later stories. I do well spending time immersed in art and humanity, taking it all in, and then writing in isolation, not talking to anyone, and taking breaks only to stare at trees.

What inspires you to write?

I’m inspired by the other writers before me, the ones living now, and those who will work hard to get the words down for us in the future.

What’s your favorite thing you’ve ever written?

I wrote a story called “The Owl People” that I think is my favorite. It was published July 2020 by New World Writing. In it, I managed to capture many different facets that were important to me into one story. It’s fiction but I was able to work in parts of my mixed race identity, queerness, ideas about isolation and connection, feelings of longing, and closeness with the animal world.

What effect do you hope your writing will have on people?

I hope my writing helps people tap into something they need to feel, imagine, remember, or make sense of somehow.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

In a deep forest by a stream, ideally. And/or northern Italy.

What is it like being queer where you live?

I live in the Bay Area and being queer feels safe and connecting—and sometimes it’s gorgeous.

What makes you peculiar?

I once fell in love with a sea lion, and I feel like it could happen again. 

Charlie J. Stephens is a non-binary fiction writer living on unceded Chochenyo Ohlone land in Northern California. Charlie has lived all over the U.S. as a bike messenger, wilderness guide, book seller, and seasonal shark diver (for educational purposes only). Charlie’s work has recently appeared in Electric Literature, The Best Small Fictions Anthology, Hinterland Magazine (UK), Fresh.Ink, The Racket, Original Plumbing (Feminist Press) and The Forge Literary Magazine, among others. Charlie is seeking an agent/publisher for their recently-finished collection of short stories and is hard at work on their first novel. More at charliejstephenswriting.com and on Instagram @charliejstephenswriting.

Read “Willamette” at peculiarjournal.com right now.

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