3/03/2020 Peter Durantine

Bank Prize Winner Audrey Lee Talks About Inspiration and Writing

Novelist and short story writer Caitlin Horrocks – “The Vexations,” “This Is Not Your City” – chose senior Audrey Lee’s “Indiana, Hotter” as the winner of this year’s Jerome Irving Bank Memorial Short Story Prize. Runner-up honors went to senior Coral Bello ’20.

Their selection was announced at the Feb. 27 Bank Prize Craft Talk, where Horrocks shared her thoughts about writing with aspiring students who packed into Franklin & Marshall College’s Philadelphia Writers House that afternoon. That evening, she gave a reading.

Lee ’20, a double major in American studies and creative writing, talked about the inspiration for her story, the art of writing, and her post-graduate plans.

  • Bank Prize winner Audrey Lee, right, with runner-up Coral Bello ’20. Bank Prize winner Audrey Lee, right, with runner-up Coral Bello ’20. Image Credit: Deb Grove

What inspired you to write the story?

“Indiana, Hotter” is one of those pieces of writing that I look back on and think, “Where on earth did I get the idea for that?” The story is heavily inspired by two very different moments in my life. The first is my grandparents’ and father’s stories from when they lived overseas in Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Bangkok, Thailand, in the 1970s and 1980s. The side of the story that takes place in Bangkok is an homage to my family’s expat history combined with my own research, as I’ve never visited, but would love to go one day. The other side of the story, in Carmel, Ind., was partially inspired by three ideas. The first was, where is a place that would feel like the characters were in a “truly” American setting? Since the story is themed around expats and the concept of “who gets to be an American,” I wanted a setting that was stifling, literally (through the repeating image of heat) and figuratively. The second idea was, what is a place entirely opposite from Bangkok? Indiana seemed like a likely answer. The third facet of inspiration is from a single woman who I met on a ski lift in Utah, who told me she was engaged to a man around 50 years her senior who was an insurance mogul. I pick up stories in the smallest of places, and so, “Indiana, Hotter” came to be from a magnitude of these small places.

How long was the actual writing process for the story?

I wrote the story over the course of a weekend. When I have the idea for a story, I have to spit it out onto paper as fast as I possibly can before I lose the small ideas, details, and nuances that float around in my head and make the story what it is. I workshopped the piece in [F&M’s English] Professor Nicholas Montemarano’s fiction class, but ended up making minimal edits to the original story, mainly to clarify timing and strengthen character motives. I just felt so confident and happy with the finished product, that I was admittedly stubborn about changing much of it.

What is your advice about storytelling for other student writers?

I am notoriously bad at following any writing advice given to me, so I find being asked for advice to be ironic. However, my best advice for students and aspiring storytellers is to listen—not just to authority figures, but to anyone who has something to say. I’ve picked up singular lines, titles, and story inspiration from the most mundane conversations with the most unlikely people (such as the woman on the ski lift). I also like to keep track of these ideas and inspiration in a physical notebook, as handwriting everything in one place keeps my memory organized and gives me a point of reference. I also read a lot of work from student writers. If I have a large, generalized piece of advice based off these readings, it’s to push the limits. Not just pushing the limits of a student’s writing style, but the subject matter of their stories, the genre constraints, the scale and scope of the piece. I find that, in my work, I fall into ruts of telling similar stories, and it’s only until I really push myself out of my writing comfort zone that, somehow, something amazing happens. No story is too small to be told; at the same time, no story is too large to be humble.

What plans do have once you graduate?

I am still shaping out my post-grad plans. My goal is to work in digital marketing while writing on the side. Digital marketing allows me to be creative and work on content-oriented projects while bridging an intersection with technology and business. I’ve had the privilege of working several digital marketing internships over the past two years, and I also freelance in copywriting. In a couple of years down the road, I’d like to apply to graduate schools for a master of fine arts degree in fiction.

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