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Chatting with Shana Ross

Shana Ross probes the Alberta writing scene, Talmud inspiration, co-ed music fraternities, writing inspiration, and editing for Luna Station Quarterly.

Chatting with Shana Ross

Shana Ross has done time in both a co-ed percussion fraternity and the PTA, and is now adapting to life in her new home of Edmonton, Alberta. Qui transtulit sustinet. Her work has appeared in Swamp Ape Review, Big Echo, Bowery Gothic, Phantom Kangaroo and more. She serves as an editor for Luna Station Quarterly. She rarely tweets: @shanakatzross.

Shana is also the author of the short story “What To Do With a Gift” from Radon Issue 3.

Q: Where do you draw inspiration for your writings?

Inspiration is all around us! I can’t tell you how often I find myself thinking “what if” and let my imagination frolic . . . the harder part for me is figuring out what I want my work to DO if I nurture one of those seeds into a story! I have a physical notebook where I jot down several ideas a day. When I sit down to write, I flip through and ask myself: if I run with this particular idea, is it a story that belongs to me? Is it a story I will bring something of myself to, is it a story I will tell uniquely? (Those questions come back to help guide me in the editing process too, but I find them inspirational early on, helping me home in on the ideas with enough energy to make it to a finished product I’ll be proud of.)

That said, one place that I tend to find some incredibly rich provocations is in wrestling with Jewish tradition. Whether that’s taking a centuries old allegory and wondering what it looks like with robots, or, in some of my poetry, arguing with long-dead rabbis so that someone in the distant future can someday argue with me.

Q: How would you describe your writing style and how did you develop it?

My writing style is currently “homemade go-cart flying down a steep hill screaming ‘If this holds together it’ll be a great ride!’” By which I mean to say: I’m in my forties, so I have decades and decades of reading experience, but writing is something I’m very new to. I’m a baby writer, but in my professional life, I teach leadership skills—especially learning to learn, having a growth mindset, being willing to take risks . . . which includes embracing a good amount of failure. I don’t want to sound flippant by answering this question with some version of “heck if I know,” but the truth is that I’m very much in active development. I love this question because it’s one I ask myself all the time! My writing at the moment isn’t quite solidified into a style; it’s a joyful “let’s try this and see what happens.”

Q: What Talmud story inspired WTDWAG?

The Midrash Eliyahu Zuta tells of “a king of flesh and blood” who gifts two servants some wheat and flax, then goes away for a long time. When he comes back, one servant has preserved the gifts exactly, and the other spreads out a tablecloth and serves some bread, having taken the gifts and made them his own. I think our civilization is (perhaps again? perhaps always?) struggling with this core question—do we want to preserve the past, our traditions, and our heritage, or do we want to transform them progressively? It’s easy to see the danger in being too rigid in how you preserve artifacts (like, ahem, a constitution?)—can something so static be living? 

But on the other hand, when you freely transform anything and everything, there’s a vibrancy . . . but also a loss, and a not so easy question of who gets to decide: what gets kept, what gets irreversibly discarded, what should progress look like? If you read my Radon story and get a little uncomfortable because it’s clear to you which world is the embarrassment, but the text doesn’t seem to spell it out . . . welcome to a wrestling match that’s been ongoing since Babylonian times.

Q: What is it like to be in a co-ed percussion fraternity? Do you find music in words as well?

Well, you learn several ways to tie togas. I may not know what kind of writer I am yet, but KBB, the percussion fraternity within the Yale Precision Marching Band, taught me a great deal about who I wanted to be as a person. Loud, irreverent, and most importantly, able to distinguish between the time to march to your own beat and the time to steadily support the whole band. I think my word wielding tends to be a little more understated than my time running around with a bass drum and cymbals, but . . . the pen is easier on my back (drums are heavy!) and aimed at the same kind of subversive truth speaking. Like Emma Goldman probably didn’t say (but I really love this apocryphal quote): If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.

Q: How is the writing scene in Alberta?

If you live anywhere else in the world, you may be missing out. That’s mostly a reaction to people in general here—I don’t know where this idea of Americans being the most extroverted people in the world comes from, because Edmontonians will talk your ear off. They want to be human with you, in a serious way. I’ve had more conversations—deeper conversations—with random strangers in a year here than the past twenty in Connecticut. And I’m the kind of person who still keeps in touch with the nun I sat next to on a plane in 2009. 

I’m still a little shellshocked from pandemic-related isolation (I am one of those parents who suddenly found themselves balancing career and *surprise!* a second fulltime career as a homeschool teacher, and then throw in the chaos of an international move in 2022). So I’m sort of a wobbly lamb taking baby steps into the Alberta writing scene. The folks I’ve met so far are kind and supportive and generous with time and advice—there are some great programs through the provincial writer’s guild, the local libraries, a wonderful discord called YEGWrites. There’s even a local brewery that prints flash fiction on their cans . . . so, #newlifegoals: be published on beer.

Q: Tell us about your editing work with Luna Station Quarterly?

Two things come to mind: first is, reading slush is something every writer should find a way to do, for so many reasons. You get to be the generous reader you want to find when you’re submitting . . . and it quickly becomes clear that good writing doesn’t guarantee an acceptance—there are so many stories that aren’t the right fit (for our magazine, or for a particular issue), and it’s not because they’re bad stories, but because we’re curating four collections a year and the time space continuum being what it is, we only have so many pages to fill. 

It helps me take rejections less personally as a writer, and it reminds me to focus on being myself (instead of trying to write to please an imagined set of gatekeepers). Second: our EIC, Jennifer Lyn Parsons, is such a dedicated champion of “vast and varied talent”—being part of LSQ is an honor because we work to find and celebrate unique voices—our authors blow me away over and over again, and it’s particularly satisfying to be elevating women’s voices in a field that has stacked the deck against us, historically.

Q: Is being an ambivert a blessing or a curse for a writer?

Oof, these pandemic years. No extrovert energy to be gathered by going out with friends, and it’s not like being locked in a house with your family 24/7 for months is the kind of solitude that feeds an introvert, so my ambivert self was in a special hell. On the other hand, I learned to find community in virtual places—zoom classes and discord channels and group texts—and how to ask for things I need, like time to take a long walk AND time to write AND time to chatter on with someone about my latest streaming obsession. For anyone, figuring out how to get more of what energizes you and how to do less of what depletes you is going to make you a happier person. Or, in my case, a working writer.

Q: What are your upcoming goals as a writer and editor?

I’m working on a manuscript of speculative poetry, a travelogue set in a post-Earth human diaspora. Getting that into a ready-to-submit manuscript is the first big goal I’m trying to stare down. I’m also hoping to find a way to level up my craft in a serious way, meaning that I’m on the lookout for classes, communities, mentors. Another piece of Jewish wisdom that really speaks to me as quality humanist advice: “Find yourself a teacher; make for yourself a friend.” I’m on the lookout for some teachers—and trust that will help me get to a new place in my writing.

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