I’m not the kind of person who has the habit of cruising dogs on
Petfinder, but this is what I was doing Thursday night on my iPhone
when I saw Carson, a yellow lab with a nice big smile. I clicked on him:
Santa Monica Shelter. Fate. The next day my car drove itself to the shel-
ter on Ninth and Olympic.
“Is Carson still here?”
A petite woman with short orange hair and a nametag that read
“Bunny” looked up at me. She squinted. “Who?”
“Carson, the dog,” I said. I don’t know why, but I almost started crying.
“Is Carson your dog?”
“No.” I took a deep breath to fight back the tears. “Not yet.”
Then what’s your problem? Her look said it all, but she typed his name
into her computer and told me to go out-
side. Someone would meet me there.
“Who you here for?” I was greeted by
a man who was talkative, but who never
stopped moving. He escorted me back to
the source of the din of barking and howl-
ing, and I was shocked to see a horse amongst all the concrete cages of
bunnies and cats and dogs.
“Carson.” I was still staring at the horse, who I realized was a police
horse and not a stray.
He repositioned a hose from a full to an empty bucket, and moved
some blankets to the dryer. “Ah, yes,” he said. “He’s been here a while.
He’s an older dog. It’s hard to tell how old, maybe seven or eight.”
I hoped for seven. My last dog, a golden retriever, died suddenly two
years ago, before he had a chance to get old. I felt like I missed out on
something. Carson did look a lot like Benny. He had a light coat, a full
square jaw, and brown eyes with blond eyelashes. He looked so lonely
Carson there standing in his cage, but he didn’t bark. He didn’t wag his tail either.
It hung there, kind of droopy, with a slight lilt, like it had the potential
“This dog isn’t going to go running with you,” the man said.
“I don’t need a dog to run with me.”
“Good, because there’s something wrong with his knee. He must have
hurt it. My dog injured his knee, and it healed up okay, but this dog isn’t
going to run with you.” I let his words sink in. This was not a three-year-
old. This was not the kind of dog, despite his classic Labrador look, a
family with young children would adopt. It was up to me to adopt this
“Having a dog is a big responsibility,” he said.
“This dog might have cancer.”
He was trying to talk me out of it.
“Why don’t you go home and think about it overnight.” He gave me
his card. His name was Scott.
I thanked Scott and walked out the back to my car. What just hap-
When I got home I filled a bowl with water and found an old leash. I
was ready. I couldn’t stand the thought of Carson spending another night
in the shelter. How could he get any sleep at night with all the barking?
But with no history on the dog, what was I getting myself into?
In the morning I grabbed my swim bag and put the leash on the front
seat of the car. I looked at Scott’s card, which had the shelter hours on
it. It opened at 8 a.m. on Saturdays. I decided to skip the swim. I’d be
disappointed if Carson was gone.
Scott wasn’t there, but Bunny said an attendant would bring Carson
out into a pen so I could visit with him. I walked over to the fenced-in
patch of fake grass and opened the gate. There was a bench, so I sat and
waited. The attendant led him in. Carson dragged his butt against the
ground, produced some runny stool, and then lay on his back waiting for
a belly rub.
I promised Bunny I’d be back within ten days with a rabies certificate,
paid the $50 adoption fee, and loaded Carson into the backseat of the car.
By the time I opened my door, he’d jumped over the seat and waited for
me from the passenger side. Long white pieces of dog hair blanketed the
I drove straight to a vet that takes walk-ins. Carson got his shots, an
exam, and some medication. He had arthritis but was basically healthy
except for the kennel cough. I glanced at the side mirror as I drove home
and saw Carson sniffing the outside air from the open window.
No groomer would want a dog with kennel cough, so I would have to
bathe him myself, but first I would have to get him up the stairs. He froze
up. No amount of begging or tugging would convince him to try the stairs,
which was a small problem since I live on the second floor. I couldn’t tell
if it was the stairs themselves or the walls and railings by the stairs that
invoked such paralyzing fear. Had something happened to him on stairs?
He wasn’t great on a leash and he kept trying to wiggle out of the end
I’d looped around his neck. Finally I straddled him, holding his middle
and moving his paws, one at a time up each stair. Once inside, I escorted
him straight to the bathtub and snatched up handfuls of hair before it
went down the drain. He didn’t seem to mind the bath too much. I rubbed
him with a towel and then let him wander around my place. That night
he snored, and the sounds of his breathing were of comfort to me as I
watched back episodes of The Dog Whisperer.
“You don’t get the dog you want, you get the dog you need,” Cesar told
a fast-talking client who had a hyper dog. I wondered what issues my
almost perfect dog could possibly have besides the stairs thing.
When I left the apartment, Carson started crying by the time I reached
the bottom of the stairs. Then it erupted into a howl. Then some barking.
By the time I hightailed it back up the stairs to “shh” him like Cesar said,
he stopped. I got him something called the “ThunderShirt,” a tight, Vel-
croed- on jersey that was “supposed to make your dog feel like he’s getting
a hug” the girl at Centinela Feed said. Carson seemed to like it, but he
continued to howl.
Some of Cesar’s cases required a treatment called “no touch, no talk, no
eye contact.” It meant give the dog space. What was I doing to contribute
to Carson’s state? Maybe I loved him too much. I made an effort to ignore
him, not be so needy myself. If he was sleeping in the other room, I gave
him his space. When I left the house, I didn’t look at him. When I got
home, I didn’t say hello right away. It worked.
It turned out Scott was wrong. Carson loves to run. Whatever it was
with his knee in the shelter, it doesn’t bother him. Last week I put my
Rollerblades on and took Carson to the bike path. It was a misty morning,
a little on the cool side, and I could hardly see past the Santa Monica pier.
A figure with a crop of bright orange hair was coming toward us on roller
skates. She smiled as she passed us headed toward Venice. At first I wasn’t
sure who she was, but after Carson tried to lunge toward her, I realized it
was Bunny. I’m sure she didn’t recognize us—why would she? But I had to
stifle the urge to call out after her, “Seven! I think he’s closer to seven!” We
cut through the fog, girl and yellow lab: an encounter fertilized by mutual
need had made Cesar’s declaration grow. I got the dog I need.
Kelsey Brogan Fiander-Carr
Don’t Eat, Then
When the drum major orders the band to stand, you listen,
only feeling dizzy for a second
in the stands. This is the National Anthem. The marching band of the
home and away teams stand as well as the crowds of parents, friends, and
coaches on each side. When the veterans
from the Vietnam War or World War II, you can’t remember, begin to
raise the American flag, your school’s River Rhapsody, the highest-level
choir, starts to sing the National Anthem. When they belt out the first
oh say can you see, your stomach begins
to rumble. You’re standing, clutching your
burnt-orange saxophone and remember
that you haven’t eaten since lunch.
The options today were mac sticks or
pulled pork. You hate pork, and actually
kind of like the mac sticks, so you went for those. Mac sticks are the
public schools’ healthy version of a mozzarella stick concoction. It’s prac-
tically bread with cheese inside, served with marinara sauce. Honestly,
it’s not bad.
Mr. French, one of the Vice Principals of your high school, announces
the captains of the football teams. You know them. The ones from your
school are members of Student Government, the club that you are secre-
tary of. Can you even spell sec-rea-tery? No, no. You decide it is indeed
spelled s-e-c-r-e-t-a-r-y, but you will spell check yourself after halftime.
Your stomach rumbles again as the first kick-off becomes a first down
for your school’s football team.
“First down, Pirates,” Mr. French announces.
You, even if you weren’t raised watching the Eagles, know that your
team, the Pirates, have made a first down because Kim Evens, the drum
major, held up a wrinkled poster board that read “Short Pirates.” This is a
shortened version of some song in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Or is it some other movie? You will also look this up. It’s the least you
can do figuring that this song is practically ingrained into your brain after
playing it in these stands for the past four seasons.
Dat dat daat daaaata dat dat datada rings from your burnt saxophone
you got from the used music store. Your mom made payments, but the
store stopped calling for money after two months. You nor your mom
asked any questions.
Your ears are ringing. You’re blaring your saxophone as loud as you can
while making a good sound, but the real ring comes from the trumpets
behind you. Loud asses.
You end, cheering “go, pirates.”
Kim Evens lets you and your section sit. Your neck strap rubs your
neck in all the wrong ways. You thought about asking your mom for a
new one each time the sharpness of its fabric put small cuts on the back
of your neck. Your mom never saw those because your hair was long
enough to cover anything. Anything. You think, there are better ways to
Your stomach growls again. You believe that there is a tiger in there
begging for food.
This occupies you until Kim Evens tells you to play another song.
Your mom gets paid on Wednesday, so the possibility of her having
money during the game for you to get concession food is slim to none,
but mostly none. Your stomach rumbles again. Luckily, everyone is shak-
ing their legs up and down in anticipation of a field goal. You don’t want
anyone to know that you are hungry. Many of your band members ate
after school, but you had nothing. You spent that time doing homework
for AP Psych, or maybe it was for AP Literature. After that, you helped
your section memorize their music.
The first quarter is almost done. Your team is winning. Your jaw hurts
from adjusting to the fast octave changes in the stands-tunes you’ve been
playing. Your gloves are discolored from all the brass.
Your mom works until the last moment before she has to leave in order
to make it to halftime. By that time, the athletic department would have
stopped checking people in. Your mom gets a free pass into the stadium
every week. You don’t complain, and you think that it’s only fair because
she only stays for halftime anyway. She says that high school football isn’t
as entertaining as her Eagles. Often, she tells you that she will take you
to an Eagles’ game. A real one. In Philadelphia. Your mom says that she’s
from there. You know that she is actually from Aston, but you let her live
her little lie. She wants you to go to college where she grew up. Moving
to Pennsylvania with her seems scary, but you know that you cannot live
in Florida without her. She is everything to you.
“Alright, to the track,” Kim Evens announces.
It’s the second quarter. You and your section have to walk down to the
track to the right of the bleachers. You are the last to leave. You have each
of your section members show you that they have everything they need
to perform. Maybe a member forgets to take off their lyer, so you
stop them and stash it next to your section bag. Maybe a member
takes the wrong hat box, so you have to swap them. Maybe a member has
everything and calls you Supreme Leader and salutes you. You tell them
to get down to the track before Mr. C, your director, beats their ass. Not
all of the section leaders wait to be the last to go to the track, but you do.
You need to. You always put yourself last.
By the end of the game, you want to go home and maybe heat up
some popcorn or eat the stale pretzels in the cabinet. When you get into
the car, your mom gives you a bag. Maybe she already had it out, but
nonetheless, she gives you a McChicken from McDonald’s. You know
that this sandwich is a dollar but a dollar-seven with tax.
Although Saturdays during band season meant competitions, your
Saturdays normally meant spending the day with your mom at her store.
Most of the day, you sit in her office at Dollar Tree a few miles from
your duplex and either read or draw. Sometimes, you do homework, but
you’d rather not do that. The only times that you are ordered out of the
office is when your mom has to count the safe.
She says something to the effect of, “I can’t lose my job,” each time she
begins to open the safe, using your birthday as a code, signaling you to
leave. When she is in the safe, you stare at the balloon section just outside
of her office. Next to the balloons are large tanks of helium.
Amid the beeping sounds coming from the registers with cashiers,
you press the helium. Without a balloon on it, the helium tank makes a
funny squeaking noise that you like. Sure, maybe you like the noise, but
maybe you also like when your mom scolds you.
“Brogan,” is all she has to say for you to stop and enter her office again.
Before you leave the store, you are given a mission. Your mom hands you
her debit card, the pink one with the breast cancer ribbon for your aunt
“Four dollars left,” your mom would have said. This means that she
has four dollars to her name. However, to you, this also meant, with the
ten dollar overdraft protection, you are able to have a scavenger hunt for
14 items. If you stick to food, you can get the full 14, but you know your
mom wants Diet Coke, so you budget that in. The food isn’t taxed, but
the drink is.
You do not ask her to go around the store with you even though you
want her to. You like spending every moment with her. She is the only
person you feel like you don’t annoy. You and her always feel like it’s you
two against the world. When you used to ask your mom if she wanted to
go around the store with you, the look of shame on her face would an-
swer that question for you. However, in this moment, you think that your
mom shouldn’t have anything to feel shameful for, but you constantly
make a mental note to never ask her again. You do not want her to feel
shame for something out of her control.
You head down the first food aisle. Your go to is spaghetti. For four
dollars, you can get noodles, sauce, a small bag of frozen meatballs, and
garlic bread. You know that you and your mom will be the only two eat-
ing spaghetti if there isn’t any meat in it, but you know that your mom
likes the sauce with some sort of meat. Your two older brothers, Chris
and Timmy, aren’t fans of spaghetti, but will eat it if there are meatballs.
You look down at your mom’s debit card. Is this one meal worth the
four dollars? You are going to the food bank tomorrow, so you assume
you can track down some ground beef there, so maybe you will wait to
make spaghetti until Sunday. Maybe you will make it tonight.
You’ll decide soon.
You volunteer every Sunday at your local food bank. Your mom’s assis-
tant’s sister will pick you up at 5:30 in the morning from your duplex. You
will help set up the rundown church with aisles of food to fill cars with
and will be rewarded with a box of food yourself. You can pick exactly
what you want. You are the cook in your household.
At the store, you manage to hunt around for five nights of dinner. The
total is $13.07. You decide to make spaghetti tonight, without the meat.
Your mom fell in love with the sight of the garlic bread you picked out,
but there are only five slices in one box, and you know you need at least
eight to suffice your family’s wants. Garlic bread trumps meat in the
sauce. (You discover that you can use ground beef to make sloppy joe’s on
white bread tomorrow after the food bank. Your brothers like sloppy joe’s.
You don’t, but you’ll eat it).
At home, you put the groceries away and begin to prepare dinner.
“I’m sick of spaghetti,” your brothers would say when they see you
cooking angel hair noodles in your favorite pot.
“Then don’t eat, then.” Your mom would answer fast from the living
room, but she would sit back down on the couch and sip her Diet Coke.
Choking back the tears, she grabs the remote.
When she turns on General Hospital, you sit on the love seat four feet
from where your mom will die in a few months.
You let the noodles simmer while the bread heats up.
“I love spaghetti,” you would say every time.
Interview with Deeshaw Philyaw
I am interviewing the wonderful Miss Deesha Philyaw. How are
Your work is so wide-ranging, covering everything from political es-
says, parenting advice, editorials, interviews with writers, and, of course,
short fiction. I was just wondering, how do your decide on genre and also
how do you come up with your stories?
Sure. So I don’t write as much nonfic-
tion now as I used to, but at the time, I
was writing everything because I just really
wanted to get published. I wanted to get published because I thought—
that’s the thing that made you a real writer.
I don’t believe that anymore.
But I just really dug it and was looking for opportunities. A lot of
things that came my way (and then also since) were because I was look-
ing to make money writing, so my writing tended to be nonfiction. It’s
more likely to get published if it’s a personal essay somewhere, or an Op-
ed or something like that, and you can get paid for more that than a short
story. That’s just the way it works. So that’s how I kind of stumbled into
some of the other kinds of writing.
And then there was a site called Literary Mama that was look-
ing for columnists. That’s how I got into writing personal essays about
parenting. I had to come up with an idea every month, you know, for
that, that column. But I tend not to be someone who can take like, the
situation happening today, and then do a take on it really quickly. I have
friends who write like that, and I admire them so much, because they can
react and respond to something and have like a lot to say, quickly, and
coherently, and then pitch it to someone and get it published. I’m much
slower. And I tend to be kind of pithy. Sometimes something will happen
and I’m like—you know I’ll have something to say. But, you know, I have
friends who will have a whole essay worth of something to say. I wish
I could; I can’t. So what ends up happening is, I might get an idea for
something. And I take notes, and I come back to it. Then a week later, I
come back in a month later, I come back, and then I have something to
How did you write during the pandemic?
In the pandemic I started working on just how I was feeling as a single
person who was physically isolated during a lot of the pandemic. And I
didn’t know what I was going to do with those notes. But I started taking
those notes down. And there was even a point where I was like, I’m never
publishing this anywhere. It’s too personal; I can’t do that. But I think
for a lot of us, you know, the pandemic changed us in different ways. And
it made me more willing to share, you know, things that were more per-
sonal. And so then I was invited to contribute an essay to an anthology
featuring black writers writing about the pandemic. And I was like, Oh, I
got something, and then I kind of developed it from there.
But the fiction, like those stories come from everywhere, so I could
overhear a piece of a conversation I can see a quote and a poem, or some-
thing that later, you know, I can build an idea or build a character or
situation, or conflict around it. So I get ideas from everywhere.
How important would you say black culture is when it came to writ-
ing your writing this collection?
My writing in that in the collection was rooted in a lot of memory
and nostalgia, so I was writing those stories, starting from the fact that
though I was living in Pittsburgh, I was not in my environment. I grew
up in the South. I was born and raised in Florida. And so I was not nec-
essarily homesick for Jacksonville, my specific hometown, but really just
longing for that life.
You know, nothing’s very simple. And where I was surrounded by
family, and things were very familiar. And so even though I live in a
colder place, I live in a different region, I was always harkening back,
and thinking back. I was raised by my grandmother and my mother, and
I wasn’t with them anymore. But I had those memories, and so when it
came time to write characters, the characters were people like the people
that I grew up with, they were in situations that were familiar to me. They
had a backyard. That was my backyard. So that’s where that came from.
And so now, I’m finding some of my stories are set in the present
where we are in the midst of a pandemic in. What’s that, like? I also
wrote a satirical horror story recently, that has to do with what it’s like
to date now. And so that’s a kind of culture too. But still, you know, my
characters are black and, and a lot of the things that are sort of personal
to us. The way we speak the way we fellowship, and the things that make
us us, are still present in my story.
I did get kind of similarities to Ntozake Shange’s play For Colored
Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf, your stories
dealing with all black women and then like also going in with relation-
ships and other topics. Did you draw inspiration at all from that book?
Books like For Colored Girls, all of Ntozake Shange’s work, Gloria
Naylor’s work like The Women of Brewster Place, Alice Walker’s work,
Toni Morrison’s work, and then Louise Merriweather, who wrote Young
Adult book that I have been reading forever since I was ten years old,
called Daddy was a Number Runner, what all of those stories did was to
show me and tell me that, like, our stories—black girls and women—that
we are worthy of books. The way that we talk and the way that we move,
and the way that we eat, and the way that we live, are the stuff of stories,
because that’s not what was reinforced. For me, that’s not what we were
reading in school. These were books that I had to kind of discover on my
I mean I didn’t think about becoming a writer until I was in my late
twenties. But I had that background of reading. And I knew that I was
hungry for stories, featuring women, who looked like me, told by women
who looked like me, because that’s the other thing is that sometimes
other people want to tell our story, and then they get smashed. And it’s
not stories that center us. By us that has that knowing, like what you were
talking about earlier about the culture, you know, those little things that
you can’t learn, just through research.
And in the end, just the comfort with an ease, there’s such a certain
ease when I read a book, like For Colored Girls which is not easy to read,
but the way that the characters are embodied in the way that we can look
at them and see ourselves or see our mothers or see our eyes.
Your collection’s main focus is on black woman and their everyday
lives. Do you think there is a disconnect for people who are not black
I wanted to write those kinds of stories where women could read
those stories and see themselves, thinking about black women in par-
ticular. I knew from what Toni Morrison said, and what August Wilson
said, that we can write about the specificity of black life, and still have it
be universal. You know, August, Wilson said that he could write about
black life forever, and never run out of things to write about. And they
were critics and reporters who would ask the two of them, like, why are
you limiting yourself by you know, writing about black people, or there
was one New York Times reviewer that referred to Toni Morrison’s work
as provincial, because she focused on black folks and black communities.
And that’s just simply not true. There’s a fullness there, right?
And I hear from people who read my book, who aren’t black aren’t
women, who are like— you know, that’s my grandmother’s kitchen table,
or I remember feeling and experiencing grief, the way that it’s described
and that these things that are unorthodox or the experience of having to
take care of a parent who wasn’t good to you, these are things that are
universal, falling in love being afraid to fall in love, being insecure, not
being at home with your body. So, telling these black women’s stories are
entry points of connection for people who aren’t black women.
How do you feel about the current writing space for writers?
I think there’s too much gatekeeping around who gets to tell stories
and what kind of stories get taken seriously or like, are popular, or what-
ever. And there’s all of these, you know, boundaries, and definitions and
stuff. They really only serve to keep people out. And I absolutely object to
all of that. And I think that everybody should be able to tell their stories,
and have that experience of somebody across the world across the coun-
try saying—That’s me; I felt that way, you know, or something like that.
And we only get that by encouraging more people to tell their stories.
We also too often define writing as something that’s, like, supposed
to be painful, and that serious writing has to be very buttoned up, right?
But, you know, there’s a lot of wonderful writing, that’s funny; there’s a
lot of wonderful writing that’s sexy; there’s a lot of wonderful writing
that is just fun to read. And also fun to write. You know I have a lot of
fun reading or writing the stories in my collection. But that doesn’t make
those stories any less serious.
Who in your family was the main storyteller? Who kept all their fam-
ily juice in?
Yeah, my grandmother, because she would tell stories and jokes, but
the same ones over and over again. The good thing about that is that
that’s how I learned them because she told them so much that they made
it easy to remember. But then when she would really tell jokes, it’s like,
I can’t laugh. But the way she would tell the jokes they would always be
like stories. It was never like a quack quack you know, and she would drag
it out and I’m sitting there going, I know exactly. She’s going to shake
but she is gonna crack herself up. And so her laugh it made me laugh but
yeah, that was definitely my mom’s mom.
You have so many dishes in your stories and stuff. I just wanted to
know what is your favorite like soul-food dish, or dish that your mom or
My mother’s potato salad. Like, it can’t be beat. On my dad’s
side, my paternal grandmother mainly made chocolate cakes and Ger-
man chocolate cakes, but every now and then she would make peach
cobbler. And so I loved her fried chicken also. But my favorite isn’t nec-
essarily soul food, but it’s crab. Like, you know, I think three of the nine
stories features crab boils. You know here I can get crab legs.
And then Willie’s Barbecue in Pittsburgh, I think you can go on
Mondays. You have to get there early in the morning to get blue crabs
flown in or driven in or whatever. And so I kind of missed that but I still
will get some crab legs and make them the same way. We used to cook
blue crabs. All the potatoes and the corn and the Zatarain’s and all the
seasoning and things like that. So seafood is my favorite food, hands
Out of the whole nine collection. Which story do you identify
with the most?
Oh, that’s a tough one, which I identify with the most. That’s tough.
My first thought was, “Dear Sister” because that one’s really personal and
semi-autobiographical in some ways. But I think I’m gonna say “How
to Make Love to a Physicist” because what I identify with there is that
sense of longing and fear and having to get out of your own way. You
really want something, but you’re almost afraid. And, you know, there’s a
part where she talks about talking herself out of good things. And then,
do you dare be hopeful? That’s a question that I sit with a lot, just as a
And when I was writing that story, I had to ask myself that question,
am I gonna let them be happy? There’s a school of thought that says that
serious literature isn’t doesn’t have happy endings, you know, that to be,
you know, serious. It has to be somber, and moody and ambivalent, all of
And I was like—No, I want I’m gonna let them be happy. You know,
we get to play God, or puppeteer or puppet master. And in that instance,
I was like, I’m gonna give them a happy ending. And, and that’s “How
to Make Love to a Physicist” is, inspired by my developing a crush on a
physicist that I met. That’s not our story, though. He did not have a crush
on me. But just the idea came from meeting him.
How did you decide that “Eula” was going to be the first story in the
collection and why?
So “Eula” was the first story I ever had published of the stories that are
in the collection. Part of that choice to put it first was kind of sentimen-
tal, but also, it is one of the most like in-your-face, provocative stories.
It’s, you know, explicit sexually, and it touches on a lot of the themes that
you see later in the other stories. So I felt like it was a good introduction
in that way. And it also just let the reader know right away. This book is
different. This book, this is what we’re doing here. Oh, the reader could
decide to proceed or not.
I hear now your book is being turned into an HBO series? How does
it feel to get your work turned into something that big?
It’s exciting on multiple levels, like, first from just the practical ma-
terial level, what I’ve wanted for so long was to be able to make a living,
doing what I do creatively and not have to do other work. And so it’s
making that possible. So just from that standpoint, and the opportunity
to revisit these characters is exciting.
I never had the idea that once the collection was done, like taking one
and then making a novel. I never wanted to do that, but at the same time,
I’m excited about revisiting them, but in a different medium, like seeing
them moving forward in time. And it but you know, in a whole different,
you know, beyond the limits of the stories as they’re currently written. So
And then just the opportunity to grow as a writer and trying my
hand at something different. At screenwriting something I have to learn,
learning from my collaborator, my co-writer, Tori Sampson, I’m have
often been in the position of being teacher. And I love being the student.
So I love that opportunity to be a student.
I was just wondering if do you plan on ever making like a sequel series
to the stories? Or do you just plan on just doing it more on the HBO
side and moving on?
Yeah, I think it’ll be HBO. And then you know, the terms of books,
I’m on to other stories, and it’s just something I think about, think that’s
really sweet about just kind of having them frozen in time. And then we
get to imagine you know, where they are.
Do you plan on branching out at all, like maybe directing or
I definitely want to keep screenwriting. And I want to leverage where
I am right now into other opportunities, like to maybe be in some other
writers rooms for other shows, and then maybe, have a script that I write
on my own, you know, a different TV show or film or something that’s
not related to Church Ladies. Definitely, you know, those are things that
I’m hoping can come next.
When you’re creating a story, and you get stuck, what tech-
niques do you use to overcome writer’s block?
So I have a couple of things I can do if I’m stuck in the story, but
I need to stay in that story. I can play “what if,” you know, and just start
imagining different possibilities for the character. I can put the character
in different situations and see what they do. I can interview the character
or have two characters, you know, talk to each other and see what I can
But if I am able to step away from the story, like I’m not on a deadline
or something like that (I usually have more than one project going at a
time), I might turn away from this project, but I’m just gonna go to this
other one, and then come back to it. So I think it’s important to have
more than one thing going.
Also, I think it’s important to interrogate—why am I stuck? Like I
challenge this whole notion of writer’s block, because I think writer’s
block is always something else. We’re stuck because we’re afraid, or we
don’t. And this is a hard one, we don’t actually want to be writing it, like
the novel that I’m working on I started in 2007. And I had years where
I was stuck. But now I can look at and say, I wasn’t so much stuck as I
lost interest. There wasn’t a story. There wasn’t really anything there. The
conflict wasn’t big enough. And I wasn’t skilled enough as a writer, to
identify those problems to diagnose the problem and then fix it. The way
I experienced it was—I’m stuck, because I didn’t know enough. But I
know you know from other people, when they talk about being stuck, it’s
they’re already worried about how other people are going to feel about
what they’re writing. And so they’re in their own way.
And it’s like, so you’re not stuck. You’ve just, you know, distract-
ed yourself. You’re worrying about things; you’re afraid of something that
hasn’t happened yet. And that’s getting in your way. So it’s like figuring
out what’s stopping me. Most of the time now, if I get stuck, it’s like, I
still trying to tell myself the story. And if I look carefully, I’m not so much
stuck as this is just the work. Like I just might have to you know, dig a
little deeper, sometimes even with fiction.
There’s an emotional part, to what I’m writing about. This starts
to hit close to home. And then I just feel like I’m slowing way down. And
I was like, oh wait, I’m sad. allow myself to be sad. Acknowledge it, and
then keep going.
Do you have any advice for future writers as myself?
Embrace revision. I think that’s the most important thing. I think the
best part of writing, and Toni Morrison agrees with me. So it must be
true! The revision part, especially when a draft can take so much out of
us, I get this the inclination to be like—Oh, finally, I’m done here to let
somebody publish it, but the draft is just the beginning. And everybody
writes drafts that are terrible, and some are more terrible than others. But
that’s where you start from, and then going back and revising, based on
your own rereading, or having other people who you trust and who have a
good eye and a good ear, give you feedback, and then responding to their
feedback and making edits. You know, that’s how you grow. And that’s
how you learn. And if you’re resistant to that, it’s going to get in the way
of you growing as a writer. And so I talked earlier about like wanting to
get published, and having that to be a goal.
I think it’s great when people get published. But I would just
encourage you to make growing as a writer your goal, and if that’s the
case, you may or may not publish right away. But if you’re always seeking
to grow, then you’re on the right track, and being open to that criticism.
And we can be really tender and precious, but no, it’s not personal, espe-
cially if you ask people who you know have your best interest in mind.
And you have to be careful who you choose to share your work with, and
who is giving you feedback to help you grow, making sure you all have
the same intentions.
And then when rejection comes, try not to take it personally. I know
people are like—Oh, I got this rejection, and I just can’t write again for
five years. Keep writing despite the rejection.
And be curious. Part of that growing as a writer is having some curios-
ity. And never stop learning, right? This idea that you’ve arrived, whether
you get a degree or you publish something still be hungry, still be creative,
still have this belief that there’s still more to do and more to learn.
What’s next for Deesha Philyaw?
The HBO show, the HBO Max show, scripting that now I’m working
on another short story collection, working on a novel and possibly work-
ing on a YA novel. So a lot. A lot.