1. When did you start writing?
“I remember trying to write before I could spell, around four to six years old. I put myself down in front of a computer and had to keep calling out to my sister in the other room, asking her how to spell every other word. I gave up after about two sentences, but I never stopped trying after that. At eight, I tried to write two different fantasy epics based on the stories I loved reading. At nine, I really picked up steam, plotting out my first ‘book’ about a girl stranded on a ship in the bermuda triangle (back when that was the main mystery of the world). I remember saving all the little pieces of chocolate and other sweets I had for months, until I had filled this little red notebook with my story. I called it finished and sat on the couch eating chocolate in silence, a deeply mediocre but passionate writer.”
2. What is your method of writing? Notebooks, computer?
“Since my first red notebook at nine, I’ve filled out over twenty journals with writing. The mechanics of physically writing activates a different part of your brain, and it’s much easier for me to write with what my hands activate when they move. After years and years of it, when I’m moving my hand to write with a pen what’s coming next is ingrained in me, a sort of instinctive push towards words. I usually write out whatever first comes by hand. Then I type it up and try to organize it, finish the draft, and then redraft from there. But the crux & atmosphere of the piece is always in a journal somewhere. I don’t think I’ve ever written a story fully on a computer, and I don’t think it would feel natural to me. It’s always a bit stilted for me that way.”
3. What drew you to write fiction? Specifically, magical realism, literary fiction, and experimental fiction?
“It was always going to be fiction for me. There’s never been a time in which I wasn’t absolutely hooked by what precise and warm fiction could do. Literary fiction as a distinction is needlessly exclusive and elitist, but for the sake of a proper term— I really loved how literary fiction focuses on the building of a story. The quick turns of a sentence, the intentions within imagery, the ability to create resonance that is both powerful and subtle in the print. It seemed to me like there was a lot of fun to be had focusing on laying down the stones underfoot.
In the same vein, experimental fiction for me is less an exercise in how ‘literary’ I am but more of an excuse to play around with form. I don’t write as much of it now, but similarly magical realism seems to make the world more truthful, allows us to express the kinds of secret pains and wonders that often walk around invisible. I’ve always really loved shifting forms, numbering scenes, writing time as a dimension, incorporating different media, really anything that could surprise and delight me. I hope to write things that seem to require the form they’re in, as opposed to be detracted by a writer’s need to show off.”
4. What drew you to write poetry?
“Oh man, I am actually very much not drawn to it. I was born and raised in Sufism, and my father is a dervish. Poetry was introduced to me as a holy art, through Sufi poets Rumi, Hafiz, etc. It seemed much too important and divine for me to mess around with as a kid. It’s difficult to break into an art when you’re told people genuinely use it to commune with God. I didn’t really have a natural talent for poetry, either. But still, it’s incredibly important in both the religion and culture I was raised in, and overtime when I wanted to connect with those aspects through art I ended up writing poetry. The more practice with writing I have, the more random lines pop into my head from things I eventually figure out are new poems.”
5. You write book reviews. How did this come about?
“I didn’t read that many books in the past two years, as I’d been really busy for a while with school and moving and all the different jobs I had. Part of reinvesting my own time into writing meant that I needed to read as much as possible with the intent to learn and adapt my own writing to better suit my projects. There’s no better way to do that than to impose your own literary responsibility onto your reading.
Part of reviewing is questioning the authority of a book meaningfully, and it’s helped expand my own horizons as an author. It’s made me much more distinct in the ways I don’t write, because it’s easier to put aside different styles and author’s trademarks when you become aware that you can question them. In a way, it gives you permission to play with your food.
Engaging with a work critically is also respecting someone as an author; it’s showing that you think their work is valuable enough to warrant the time you spend on it, whether or not your review is glowing. I keep that in mind whenever I’m starting to write. There may be the first impulse to dismiss the work, but I wouldn’t be there if I didn’t respect them as a writer. Creating a portfolio of meaningful evaluations of works and authors I respect has become something really rewarding.”
6. You are the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Flat Ink. Why did you decide to establish your own magazine?
“It’s just always been something I’ve wanted to do. Not really for any position of authority in the literary world (though I doubt a small craft mag really gives me that), but for the ability to work with all these other artists who have come together to be part of something. That’s why I describe it as a writer’s parlor— because it’s this idea of hosting that I’m invested in. That we can come together in one space and period of time. We’re all in this literary generation. We’re the artists around for a while, and connecting with each other is something I see as the way forward.”
7. What other project(s) do you hope to take on someday?
“I’m a bit of a hoarder of ideas. I have a list of all the different books I want to write, and different forms I want to work with. I’m actually planning to start a new manuscript this November, with the help of a mentor of mine. I won’t say much about it now, but I think it could be a lot of fun. I’m also looking forward to/half dreading editing the first ever manuscript I completed, which I’ve been sitting on for a while now.
With Flat Ink, I’ve been thinking about things like designing the print edition, making more columns, and creating more projects for the magazine. I’m also very into the idea of anthologies, hand picking all these wonderful art pieces in order to curate a larger project, specifically ones following folklore and culture. As of late I’ve been more interested by ancient history, and I hope in the future I’ll be passionate about some sort of project that uses myth and story tradition set in an ancient time.”
8. What do you hope people take away from your work?
“There is no version of this answer that doesn’t change, but for now, I hope I’m able to create worlds in which people can hold themselves upright. Does that make any kind of sense? I want to write novels that people return to, and that I return to myself. I was sick for a long time. I want to write things that are well.
The best work, the work I hope to write, belongs to a sort of living dimension that we can reach. It’s capable of drawing lines through alternate homes and bringing both us and the book to where it best fits. Books like that, that can settle us in some way, are probably the most valuable works we have. I hope the books I’m going to write are capable of that as well.”
9. What’s the best writing advice you’ve been told or happened to overhear? Or, what writing advice would you offer?
“I can’t think of much right now, but I was told when I was 13 that I needed to go slow. That the act of writing itself is something to love and slowing it down means more enjoyment to be had. That is something I’ll remember, for certain.”
10. And finally, what do you enjoy doing that you don’t talk about enough. Tell me all about it!
"I love crocheting while watching TV. I have this far-off goal of crocheting a patchwork blanket that can stretch out over an entire room. At the moment, it’s just about TV, crocheting, entertaining myself with celebrity gossip, and trying to envoke the energy of Anna Marie Tendler. Hopefully before long I’ll be back in cafes and hanging out with friends :)"
Hear Dilara read her forthcoming poem "Steppe Classics."
Dilara Sümbül is a fiction writer from San Francisco. She is editor in chief of Flat Ink, an editor at Dear Asian Youth, and a reviewer & reader at the Farside Review. She’s the descendent of Maraş, Istanbul, Almaty, and their literature. Her work currently focuses on hiding places, and can be found at dilarasumbulwriting.com
Amy Cipolla Barnes
Cristina A. Bejan
Elizabeth M Castillo
Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar
Emily M. Goldsmith
Lukas Ray Hall
B. Tyler Lee
June Lin (mini)
Calia Jane Mayfield
Maria S. Picone
Charlie D’Aniello Trigueros
Heath Joseph Wooten