Write Here, Write Now: Chop Chop by AJ Nelson

In Season 2 of Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast, host Erica Wagner interviews winners of the Vocal+ Fiction Awards

By Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal PodcastPublished 4 months ago 4 min read

Grief and resentment coil around one another in this dark fantasy from AJ Nelson. “Chop Chop” luxuriates in language, transforming seemingly routine moments into a feast for the imagination. All of these familiar details add up to an ending that is anything but ordinary.

What was the impetus for your winning story? Walk us through your initial act of creation.

The story started as a few paragraphs I wrote in response to a very specific prompt in a writing workshop. I had to write a scene in which a couple has just discovered that their surrogate is planning to keep the baby, and I had to include an eggplant somehow. The other people in the workshop liked what I wrote, and the story grew from there.

What does it take for a story to grab you? How do you grab your audience?

I always enjoy vivid imagery and unexpected or creative use of language – I read poetry almost every day, and I think that has a big influence on my writing. I love work that takes something I've seen or experienced myself and invites me (or grabs me by the chin and forces me!) to look at it through a different lens. I try to do that in my own writing – to take familiar things and show how they are really quite strange. So my work focuses on images, sometimes at the expense of plot, I'm afraid! I try to grab my audience with something unexpected, whether that's a character, an image, or a strange choice of words.

Who are your favorite writers and why? Do you have any favorite Vocal Creators?

This list changes all the time. I love Haruki Murakami, particularly his earlier novels, because his work never fails to inspire me to write. If I'm blocked, I can pick up one of his short stories or open one of his novels to any page, and I will always come up with an idea, even if it's just for a single scene. Elizabeth Acevedo is one of my current favorites, because she creates beautiful images in the service of truly powerful narratives. I recently read Selena Anderson for the first time and was blown away by the how she pushes the boundaries of what narrative is and what language can do. Ursula K. Le Guin is a longstanding favorite of mine because she's an expert at taking things we think we know, or things we see every day, and helping us to look at them in new ways and come to new realizations. My current favorite poets include Kaveh Akbar, Ross Gay, Rachel Zucker, and Tommy Pico.

How has sharing your writing in life and on Vocal affected you as a Creator?

The encouragement I get from any audience, no matter the size, is vital to me. When people contact me out of the blue to say they enjoyed something I wrote, or that it freaked them out, or that they'll never be able to look at an eggplant in the same way again ... that can turn an otherwise terrible day into a great one. Likewise if I'm reading in front of an audience and someone comes up afterward to say they liked something specific about what I wrote, then I feel like I've made a connection, and that keeps me writing. I write to figure out what I think and/or how I feel about something, and the best part of that is finding people who appreciate that perspective, or who think or feel similarly. Vocal has been an enormous source of encouragement to me in that way.

What advice do you have for other Creators?

Find a writing community – whether it's in person or online, your writing will improve as you share it and get feedback, as you see how other writers do things differently, as you discuss favorite books with fellow writers, and as you find people you trust to tell you when something you've written is good, and when it still needs work. Vocal is one good place for this. And try out some literary podcasts too; for me they function as a sort of secondhand writing community. Some of my favorites are David Naimon's "Between the Covers," Rachel Zucker's "Commonplace," Pádraig Ó Touma's "Poetry Unbound," Hattie Crisell's "In Writing," and the "VS" poetry podcast, which used to be hosted by Danez Smith and Franny Choi and will be getting a new host (or hosts) soon.

Stay tuned for new episodes of Write Here, Write Now Season 2 launching weekly.


About the Creator

Write Here, Write Now: A Vocal Podcast

Sex, death, relationships, nature, families... If you like to stop, think and consider things a little differently, join host Erica Wagner as she introduces a new Vocal creator’s story each week.

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