Pigeon Pages Interview with Rae DelBianco
Do you have a bird story or favorite feathered friend?
When I was a teenager, I pried open the space between the walls of our barn with a crowbar to reach a bird crying out inside. I found a pink day-old sparrow hatchling that had fallen twenty feet from a nest among the rafters.
It lived in a shoebox beside my bed for two weeks, eating egg yolk and wet dog food, and I’d never seen a living thing grow that quickly. You could watch the feathers veining under its skin, progressing by the hour. I loved watching a little life’s perpetual change. I set it loose when it learned to fly, but it never left us. For the rest of the summer it watched from the corral fence as I worked the cattle. That was George, my favorite feathered friend.
What is your most memorable reading experience?
Reading William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! while I began the first draft of Rough Animals irrevocably changed me. It was my first experience of literature’s ability to expand and compress not only time but life—to take a single moment and give it generations of meaning, and to do that again and again. People speak often of immortality gained by writing, or the immortality of characters that live on through readers, but my definition of immortality is to live a life in which, through art, not a minute passes that does not have the potential for infinite exploration and infinite significance.
What makes you most excited about Rough Animals?
I feel that readers are people who embrace life so eagerly that living only one life isn’t enough for them. The characters of Rough Animals were a thrilling chance for me to live their lives by writing them. Through Wyatt, I explored whether we can truthfully see our loved ones, our community, or our world as broken and choose to love anyway. With Lucy, I delved into my biggest struggle of growing up—facing the everyday violence we cause merely by living. And, in a time in which my age and the political climate challenged my confidence as a woman, the character of the girl was absolute, unbridled and chaotic, liberation.
To tweet or not to tweet?
I keep my unfiltered thoughts in my writing notebooks and off the Internet.
What books do you have in your bag right now?
Trilobites and Other Stories by Breece D’J Pancake. I have a single story left in this posthumous collection, his only published work, and I can’t let it end. The novels about upbringings that feel like mine are mostly from another time, and while I feel as close to Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree as I did to Little House in the Big Woods as a child, Pancake gave me my first encounter with my own identity on the page. It’s contemporary redneck literature, if I can create that genre. The grit and muted melancholy of county fairs and cattle shows, the inextricable pain and fascination of hunting. There aren’t many of us who have lived it and write. It makes me feel incomparably understood.
Can you tell us your favorite rejection story?
Back in my starving artist days, I modeled for pocket money. I had an agency while I lived in Asia, but I’m far short of the height requirements of New York. Something kept me going to the agency calls anyway. As a writer, it’s easy to hide from rejection—leaving them unread in an email inbox, discarding unopened form letters, and never having to accept that months of silence from a literary agent means rejection. That’s not healthy; it enables the fear. At modeling agencies in New York, I took rejection to the face. I was looked in the eye by people I respected and told to get out of the room. After a few rounds of this, I realized how quickly it was making me stronger. I started walking in at 5’6” to agency calls for 5’9” and up. I had eyebrows raised at me and got laughed out of rooms and was told in person why I wasn’t worthy. And I stopped being afraid of rejection in any form. I fought through a year of literary agent rejections and got into Curtis Brown Creative and got signed. I held fast through over fifty publishing rejections before Rough Animals found its home with Arcade. And it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t given the New York fashion world a good joke.
What literary journals do you love?
Pigeon Pages is the first literary journal I’ve gotten to know in its fledgling stages and I’ve loved watching it grow. The community it builds through its reading series is a vibrant, exciting literary home. Monkey Business, the first Japanese literary journal in translation in the US, introduced me to everything a great literary journal can be: varied yet curated, exciting yet thoughtful, from voices established and unheard-of. I read it straight through like a novel composed of many voices. Tin House, I adore for its championing of eclectic, offbeat, and imaginative literature, as well as for its inimitable Summer Workshop. And, as a writer, The Paris Review’s The Art of Fiction interview series is indispensable. I keep a copy of Truman Capote’s 1957 interview beneath my laptop at all times, the one in which he says, “call it precious and go to hell, but I believe a story can be wrecked by a faulty rhythm in a sentence.”
What shakes your tail feathers?
To me, there’s nothing that feels as much like flying as sitting down to write.
What advice do you have for fledgling writers?
I always trust Faulkner’s words—on both the literary and the ornithological. He once told an interviewer that he’d like to be reincarnated as a vulture, which is my favorite bird, precisely for the endurance and self-sufficiency he describes. The advice I’ve written across all my writing notebooks is from his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “[a writer] must teach himself that the basest of all things is to be afraid.”
What other eggs do you have in your basket right now?
The next book is bull riders, the opioid crisis, and high-stakes livestock showing. I can’t wait.
Rae DelBianco grew up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, where she raised livestock, founding a beef cattle operation at age fourteen. She attended Duke University on a Robertson Scholarship, graduating in 2014, and was later accepted to Curtis Brown's six-month novel writing course in London. She is an alumnus of Tin House's Summer Workshop, and lives in Mountainside, New Jersey, staying with her 88 year-old grandmother for the past four years in order to write. ROUGH ANIMALS is her first novel.