BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
Hillary Leftwich is a joy and treasure. If you’ve had the pleasure and privilege of reading your work, your life is better for it. Leftwich is a writer, both of fiction and poetry, whose forthcoming collection, Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How To Knock, will be published by Civil Coping Mechanisms. Her prose is conversational and familiar, as if you’re in the speaker’s head. From her story, “A Small Infestation Following a Big Stroke of Luck,” she writes in a way that speaks to the complexities of family dynamics:
One month after winning, mom disappeared. I could barely make it out of my room by then. The house started to smell like the time I left Sugar Daddies in the back seat of mom’s Chevy. By the time we noticed, they had melted together like abstract art-decaying caramel weeping in the sun’s slanted grin. There was a dispute between Diet and Regular. They didn’t like how their labels were different colors. The bottles started to collapse on each other, swaying and twitching as they squared off, the unchoreographed plastic version of West Side Story. I managed to escape out the bathroom window, imagining I was a jet because “When you’re a Jet you’re a Jet all the way” just as the bottles began their uprising. I crash landed on my knees and palms, dog paddled in the dirt until I managed to stand and run. I heard my mom scream as the sound of plastic kabooms ruptured the air, like ducks shattering in the sky.
Her work has also been anthologized, including in A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault (CCM, 2017). I had the pleasure of talking to Leftwich about fears, happiness, food, and art.
Describe your favorite meal.
Anything with Cilantro in it. I'm serious.
What have you been listening to lately?
The new King Dude. A little of Death Grips. And I'm always listening to Otis Redding.
Choose three books that you've always identified with?
Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of Nimh. My dad used to read that to me and my older brother at night before bed and it's always stuck with me. Kafka on the Shore, because I'll always be obsessed with Murakami. Killing Floor because AiOgawa is someone I'll always feel floored when I read, even if it's a million times.
Choose one painting that describes who you are. What is it?
The Nightmare by Henry Fuseli. I've had sleep paralysis since I was a kid and I've always thought it depicts what happens to me during a paralysis episode in horrific detail.
Choose a gif that encompasses mornings for you.
What do you imagine the apocalypse is like? How would you want to die?
I've been a fan of Steven King since I was little and my dad made me watch The Shining instead of Saturday morning cartoons. I always envisioned the apocalypse being a lot like the town in Children of the Corn. Midwest, like where my folks were born and raised. My grandpa built a fallout shelter under his house in Indiana and had it stocked and ready to go. That's kind of how I envision the apocalypse being like. Not romanticized and full of zombies or government conspiracies. Just small town folks trying to survive and maybe sticking a few fingers in a blender at the neighborhood diner. I always wanted to die by spontaneous combustion. It seems neat. Besides, who does anyone know that's imploded?
If you could only watch three films for the rest of your life, what would they be?
The World of Tomorrow by Don Hertzfeldt. That's one hell of a beautiful film.
Donnie Darko, because every time I watch it, I see something new.
The Last Unicorn, because that was my favorite movie when I was a kid, and I want to hold on to that feeling forever.
What’s your favorite animal?
Deer. They mesmerize me.
What's something that surprised you recently?
My partner and I started a fundraiser to help raise money to buy a house. We received so much love and support from our community I'm still in awe at the kindness of strangers.
What do you carry with you at all times?
I wear a protection amulet at all times, and a switchblade in my backpack.
What are you afraid of?
Being miserable because of my own doing and falling completely into mental illness and not being able to get out.
What are some of your daily rituals or routines?
I have a bad habit of smoking on my stairwell in the Murder House I live in. The birds like to dive bomb from above and occasionally a ghost will say something to you if your conversation is interesting enough.
What are your proudest accomplishments?
Having my son and signing my first book deal. I never thought that would happen. Either one. They were both a happy surprise.
Define happiness for you.
Baking or cooking when it isn't a chore.
What’s something you want to do in 2019?
I want to buy a house and be able to have a safe space and peace, finally.
Hillary Leftwich is the author of the forthcoming collection Ghosts Are Just Strangers Who Know How To Knock from Civil Coping Mechanisms (CCM) Press in 2019. She earned her MFA in fiction and poetry from the Mile High MFA at Regis University. She is the poetry and prose editor for Heavy Feather Review and curator/host for At the Inkwell Denver, a monthly reading series. In her day jobs she has worked as a private investigator, maid, repo agent, and pinup model. Currently, she freelances as a writer, editor, writing workshop instructor, and guest instructor for Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash Workshop. Her writing can be found or is forthcoming in print and online in such journals as Entropy, The Missouri Review, The Review Review, Hobart, SmokeLong Quarterly, Matter Press, Literary Orphans, Sundog Lit, NANO Fiction, Occulum, Jellyfish Review, and others.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of Sirs & Madams, The Gods Are Dead, Marys of the Sea, Sexting Ghosts, Xenos, No(body) (forthcoming, Madhouse Press, 2019), and is the editor of A Shadow Map: Writing by Survivors of Sexual Assault. They received their MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. Joanna is the founder of Yes Poetry and the senior managing editor for Luna Luna Magazine. Some of their writing has appeared in The Rumpus, Them, Brooklyn Magazine, BUST, and elsewhere. Joanna also leads workshops at Brooklyn Poets. joannavalente.com / Twitter: @joannasaid / IG: joannacvalente / FB: joannacvalente