Wire in the Heartwood: Rachel Lallouz in Conversation with Kelly Cooper

Kelly Cooper

Malahat marketing assistant Rachel Lallouz talks with Kelly Cooper on winning the 2014 Open Season Award for Creative Nonfiction.


Read what Open Season creative nonfiction judge Mark Abley had to say about "Ten Easy Steps", Cooper's winning memoir.

Did you find that writing this piece was a cathartic process for you?

I wasn't trying to purge myself of anger or sadness as I was writing. Perhaps I was looking to do the opposite and hold my brothers close to me. Grief is a manifestation of the deep love I feel for those men. When I was a teenager, walking through a poplar bluff in one of our pastures, I came upon a tree with a length of barbed wire that appeared to have grown through its trunk. Every spring, with each thin layer of cambium that formed, that tree pressed closer and closer to the fence beside it; enough years passed and the wire was enveloped. The tree lived on, the fence rusted and finally fell, but that length of wire remained, running through the heartwood. I'd be content to be like that poplar and grow around the barb.

Can you talk about how you felt upon completion of this particular work?

Like one of those Olympic cross-country skiers who cross the finish line and collapse. Simultaneously flattened and triumphant.

The numerical structure and directive tone struck me most. When beginning the composition of “Ten Easy Steps,” did you already have these ideas in mind to build the framework of this piece?

Yes. When I was writing my brothers' obituaries, I soon became aware of all the things I was not saying. An obituary focuses on facts. Dates of birth and death. Relationships are listed, not explored or examined. Obituaries are strangely unemotional accounts of painful losses. “Ten Easy Steps” was a response to the limitations of the traditional obituary form. It rages and cries and speculates and hints at secrets taken to the grave. Using the second person pronoun was a way to put a bit of distance between myself and the material, an attempt to manage the intensity of the experience.

What was your immediate reaction to finding out that you had been selected as the winner of the creative non-fiction category?

I burst into tears.

After writing “Ten Easy Steps,” do you feel that you will continue to write creative nonfiction? Have you developed a connection to this genre that you feel will now trump other forms?

I am a prose writer who occasionally writes poetry and creative nonfiction. I have only written a few creative nonfiction pieces and all of them have been in response to very painful losses. I do not hope to write more and more of those, but I do appreciate the freedom that creative nonfiction offers. A writer can mix image, narrative, facts, lists, instructions, whatever is needed to explore the thing that demands to be explored. I am currently writing a creative nonfiction piece with the working title “My Daughter's Birthday and the Cat's in Heat.” I hope it will have a bit of laughter in it. We'll see how it goes.


Rachel Lallouz

Rachel Lallouz

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