Instructor Spotlight: Carina Bissett, on writing

By: Camille Liptak | Staff Writer

English Instructor and Published Author Carina Bissett

English Instructor Carina Bissett is a hidden diamond at PPCC. In between teaching CCR 094 and ENG 121, Bissett has forged herself a path in the world of publishing. As a member of Codex, Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, Science Fiction Poetry Association, and the Horror Writers Association, her short fiction and poems have been published in numerous journals and anthologies and have been nominated for several awards, including the Pushcart Prize and the Sundress Publications Best of the Net. Some of Bissett’s writing has also been featured in PPCC’s literary and arts journal, Parley

I asked Bissett a few questions about writing, finding inspiration and overcoming adversity. 

Camille Liptak: First off, why do you write? 

Carina Bissett: It seems trite to say I write because I feel it’s my purpose in life, but it’s true. I can’t not write. The only exception was from the summer of 2016 through the end of 2017 when a traumatic brain injury dramatically interfered with my cognition and creativity. Without those outlets, I felt empty and unmoored— without purpose or identity. It was the worst time of my life. It isn’t as easy to work now as it was before my cycling accident, but there is a feeling of accomplishment with each word I’m able to put down on the page.

CL: How long have you been writing?

CB: I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. My first professional sale was in 1998, but I had published in student newspapers and literary journals prior to that. In 2013, I started over writing as Carina Bissett. My first publication under this name was in 2014.

CL: What inspires you to pick up a pen and write? How do you come up with ideas for your stories?

CB: I’ve been a writer my entire life, so I find inspiration in just about everything around me. I carry a notebook wherever I go, and I jot down anything of interest. My working journals are full of snippets of conversations and random thoughts. My writing is deeply rooted in fairy tale, myth, and folklore. Even my nonfiction pieces tend to draw from a vast reservoir created through decades of self-directed research. I once wrote a feature story about roadrunners, and I spent weeks combing through archives for every tidbit I could find on the folkloric links to the real-life bird. My fiction, on the other hand, draws inspiration from the works of Angela Carter, Anne Sexton, Jack Zipes, Maria Warner and Angela Slatter among others. Fairy tales, in particular, offer fertile ground to explore everything from interpersonal relationships to transformative experiences. I rarely write straight-up retellings, but I do enjoy drawing from the well of fairy tale inspiration. The inherent symbolism of such objects as apples, keys, and shoes create an instant means of communication with the reader. It doesn’t get much better than that.

CL: Do you recall the first time you were published and what that meant for you? 

CB: My first magazine sale was published in November 1998. I had originally written a first-person account of a fishing trip that went awry and published it at the university newspaper. (I was the editor, so I had some leeway.) It just so happened that I was also taking a class with a magazine editor at the time, and I gave it to him to read. He acquired it as a reprint for the regional magazine he edited at the rate of 55 cents a word. He then hired me to write another short story, and I never looked back. I had traditionally published hundreds of articles and several travel books when circumstance led me to take a different name in 2013. It was an odd experience to have to start my career all over again. The next time I published for the “first time” held more significance for me. I sold my poem “Wild Girl” to NonBinary Review in 2014. Although I’ve published a few non-fiction pieces over the last few years, my focus has shifted predominately to fiction and poetry. Genre work is even more difficult to sell than non-fiction, so each milestone I meet has added significance.  

CL: Given your experience as a published writer, why do you think publishing is important? Or do you?

CB: This is a tough question because I think it means different things for different people. I’ve never had a feeling of validation when my work is published. I’m always looking ahead. I’m a slow writer working in a publishing world that is even slower than I am. I believe in writing with intention, and I believe the stories I tell can help others dealing with similar struggles or explorations of identity.

In the more general sense, I believe publishing is important because it provides a place where we can learn from and connect with others. This is especially important today. We need stories from diverse perspectives. We need stories of the LGBTQ community. We need the stories of people of color. We need the stories of women. Thankfully, today’s publishing platforms are providing more and more space dedicated to marginalized writers. By reading outside our personal experiences, we gain empathy and understanding, and through those associations, we become more connected with the world at large. 

CL: Do you have any tips for budding authors? 

CB: The first thing to accept is that writing is a long game. It takes persistence and patience. The second thing is to be true to yourself. Write the stories that matter the most to you. What is your connection to the subject matter? Why are you the only person who can write that particular story? For instance, I originally started the story “A Seed Planted” in 2015. At its foundation, this is a tale about a woman struggling with a problematic relationship to her parents. However, it’s also about climate change. It’s about power dynamics. It’s about sacrifice. The one thing I didn’t think about while writing this piece was where I’d sell it. I never imagined anyone would ever publish a gender-bent “Jack and the Beanstalk” eco-fic mash-up with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter.” However, this was my first professional fiction sale, and the only piece selected from over two hundred slush submissions for inclusion in the anthology Hath No Fury. I personally think it was selected because it had a “spark.” It was a story no one else could write but me. “A Seed Planted” was originally published in 2018, and it has since been picked up as a reprint by the Japanese publisher Night Land Quarterly. However, if I’d been writing in anticipation of publication, I would have never written it in the first place.

Here’s a full list of Carina’s most recent and upcoming publications:

Recent Publications

“Rotten,” Arterial Bloom, Crystal Lake Publishing, April 2020.

Why Is It so Hard to Make Friends Over 40?”, The Girlfriend. AARP. April 2020.

“Grey Matters,” Chrysalis: Fairy Tale Transformations, Fantasia Divinity Magazine. February 2020.

Lepus antilocapra,” HWA Poetry Showcase Vol. VI, edited by Stephanie Wytovich. November 2019.

“Gaze with Undimmed Eyes and the World Drops Dead,” Terror at 5280′, Denver Horror Collective. November 2019.

“Burning Bright,” Gorgon: Stories of Emergence, Pantheon. February 2019.

Upcoming Publications

“An Authentic Experience,” Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Forthcoming.

“Aviatrix Unbound,” Triangulation: Extinction, Parsec Ink. Forthcoming.

Chapter vignettes, Lost Citadel Roleplaying, Green Ronin Publishing. Forthcoming.

“The Landscape of Lacrimation,” Weird Dream Society. Forthcoming. Reprint.

“A Seed Planted,” translated into Japanese by Ottojiro Machikane, The Fantasy of Sky Realms, Night Land Quarterly (NLQ). Forthcoming. Reprint.

You can connect with Carina via her blog, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @carinabissett.