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Space to create: First-time novelist ‘immersed’ in Anderson Center life

Molly Reid is spending May 2018 at the Anderson Center working on a novel. She indicated that being part of the mixed-residency community is bearing fruit, too. – Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor1 / 2
Reading through a draft, Molly Reid made eight pages of handwritten notes to address. – Ruth Nerhaugen / Contributor2 / 2

By Ruth Nerhaugen, Contributor

As a working student pursuing a doctorate in creative writing, Molly Reid is hard pressed to find time for her debut novel.

Reid, who is in residence this month at the Anderson Center, will see her first collection of short stories, "The Rapture Index," published next spring. She won a contest put on by by BOA Ltd. Editions, an independent press, for her stories modeled after the medieval bestiary.

"I find that with the novel, I haven't been able to work on it much. You can't drop in and out like with short stories," she explained. "I need immersion."

Her first step when she arrived at the Anderson Center from Cincinnati was to review her entire draft of "Not Tested on Animals."

The result: "I have eight pages of handwritten notes about things I need to address," Reid said. Her notes involve character development, scenes and any number of other items.

"There are problems to solve with a complicated plot and multiple point-of-view characters," she said.

Time, space and connections

At Tower View, Reid walks and thinks about plot problems, or goes on bike rides and ponders character challenges.

For her, writer/artist residencies provide that kind of quality time and space.

Reid, a grad assistant at the University of Cincinnati, has participated in a number of residences and workshops in recent years. Those encounters have provided opportunities to meet other writers, and also to meet and interact with visual artists.

"Visual arts is so foreign to me," she said. "I love to hear about their processes, why they do what they do." She especially appreciates "their tactile, active workspace," which is so unlike her simple writing space.

As a result, she said, "One of the main characters in the novel" she is completing is a visual artist — a painter. "I also have a taxidermy sculptor."

The taxidermy angle comes from learning about the "rogue taxidermy" movement that started in Minnesota nearly 15 years ago. It has evolved into its own genre of contemporary or "pop-surrealist" art that utilizes contemporary taxidermy-related materials to create unconventional mixed media sculptures.

Reid hopes her month in Red Wing will be enough time and space to get through her entire list of notes for the novel.

Balancing individual, group

The story "is a product of my personal obsession," she said. In a written description, Reid comments, "I'm interested in exploring how a person can maintain individual identity while be part of a collective, a family."

The novel, which also explores boundaries and the concept of haunting, revolves around three central characters — father, mother and daughter.

"In some respects that's the story of my life," Reid said, "though the story is not about me."

Following her month at the Anderson Center, Reid will return to Ohio and teach summer school. Her primary role during the school year is serving as assistant editor for The Cincinnati Review at the university.

Literary magazines that publish contemporary poetry, fiction and other writing, plus visual art, hold a special appeal for her.

"I love that it's this space within academia that invites the larger academic community" to participate, Reid explained. "Anyone can submit," and in doing so they become part of a community of writers and artists.

"I like finding and promoting new voices, and being part of that community," Reid added. "I'd love to do that for a job."

Working with young voices will be her community service activity. She will teach a workshop for Tower View Alternative School students. It's the same process she has used with college students.

"I have them take something from their own lives and fictionalize it," Reid explained — perhaps by putting it in a wildly different setting, or by introducing someone else as the main character.

"It makes the real experience unfamiliar to fictionalize it and get at the truth."