The Dinosaur Experience: an Interview with Short Story Star Julia Drake

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This interview has been edited for clarity.

While fiction has for a long time been associated with the weight of a thick, white-paged novel in one’s hands, you may have learned that this image is neither historically representative of print culture, nor is it representative of the recent expansion of literary forms and mediums. The short story is one such example of a blooming literary form. While it has always been a unique and masterful creation, in the past few years it has been revitalized and has received more mainstream attention. Short story collections, such as Canadian author Zsuzsi Gartner’s speculative fiction collection Better Living Through Plastic Explosives, are often raw and powerful commentaries on modern life and current events.

This distinctive form of writing can capture historical moments, reflect on pop culture, and engage with all kinds of readers—from those who make quick library runs after work to those with an e-book reader on the subway and to those who, like many university students, surf the web between projects looking for a thrilling, quick read to restore their energy and imagination.

However, not only is the short story being used to represent technology, communication, and personal relationships in the modern world, but it has also found a new niche on the internet, revolutionizing its accessibility and circulation. Blogs, online journals, publishing websites, and databases are growing in popularity, redefining their content and catering to a wider and wider audience. The expansion of self-publishing and online publishing is providing seasoned as well as aspiring authors with new and exciting opportunities to release their work, and is providing readers with a new literary wonderland.

If you’re looking for a quick, fun read—one you can access through a couple clicks of your mouse—here is one suggestion that will bring a smile to your face. Julia’s Drake’s “The Boy from Jurassic Park’s College Application Essay” will be relatable to all university students. We at The Spectatorial are grateful to the author for answering a couple questions about her stories, ideas, and experiences.

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Illustration by Iris Benedikt.


How did you come up with the idea of combining two such different ideas—a classic movie plot and a college application essay?

Truthfully, I watched Jurassic Park for the first time last year around college application season and the idea just popped out of my mouth: “Boy, this kid would have a great college application essay.”  My roommate laughed (kindly, perhaps), and that was all I needed to run with it. A lot of humor can be derived from shoehorning zany ideas into familiar forms—I think of George Saunders writing stories in the form of customer service letters or office memos. Luckily I work in a university writing center and had been reading a lot of personal statements, and it seemed to me that it was a form ripe for exploitation. We’ve all gone through the agony of writing application essays, and we’re all familiar with the tropes and tricks that we rely on when writing them. Fewer of us, I’d argue, have outwitted dinosaurs.

Is the short story your preferred literary form, and what attracted you to this form? Do you think that the short story has certain potentials of expression that other forms of literature do not?

I started out writing short stories because that was what was asked of me in college. A professor of mine once said short stories save the writer from having to do the “furniture arranging” you have to do in a novel—you can get to the crux of the problem much more quickly without having to do an extended set-up. This of course presents its own set of challenges, but it can often make a short story feel more urgent, and in that way the stakes are higher than in a novel. It’s also higher stakes for the writer: every word counts.

Do you have any advice for ambitious university students who want to explore writing, editing, or self-publishing? 

Write all the time, and trust yourself that what you’re saying has value. Don’t talk yourself out of projects, particularly not if they matter to you. Try to love the act of writing as much as possible, even when you’re struggling.

Can you offer any encouragement to young writers who are considering online publishing?

Read all the submission requirements—meeting expectations is part of the battle. Remember that when your works gets rejected (and it will be) that it may have been read by some twenty-year-old intern and that that person is not the absolute authority on your talent (I say this as a former twenty-year-old intern). And you can always Google “famous rejected authors”. I find myself doing that a lot.

How do you feel about fan-fiction? Can it be a useful tool to practice writing skills and develop style for young writers?

Anything that gets you writing is a useful tool. If other works inspire you, embrace that and see where you wind up. Updates on classics— myths, Shakespeare, fairy tales—are always popular, and we’ve been recycling the same stories for years and years. Imitations of authors you admire can be hugely helpful, too, in figuring out how certain authors are achieving certain effects. In painting, everyone paints the same still life with the pears and the silver bowl before they move on to abstraction; imitations and fan-fiction can serve a similar purpose in that they help you to pin down the basics before developing your own style.

-contributed by Polina Zak


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