Interview with Eloise Faichney

By Tina Tsironis

Eloise Faichney is an emerging writer from Melbourne, Australia. Co-Senior Editor of literary journals Other Terrain and Backstory, her work has been published in Bukker Tilibul, Stormcloud Poets Anthology and Smut Zine.

She recently returned from Yale University in New Haven, where she attended the Yale Writer’s Conference. She sat down with Tina Tsironis to discuss her eye-opening, at times shattering, experience.

What initially sparked your motivation to go apply to the Yale Writer’s Conference?

It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, in a way. I saw the conference advertised in The New Yorker and was intrigued enough to follow the clickbait. The only reason I thought it might be possible is because a friend of mine is a bioethicist and she teaches at Yale during their summer school. She’s always told me how wonderful going to Yale for those few weeks a year is, and she said it is the number one thing on her frighteningly impressive resume that everybody asks her about.

So I messaged her about it and her response was, ‘yep, you’re doing it. It’s happening, I’ll see you in Yale!’ It was such a crazy long shot, but knowing someone who’d been there made it seem just a tiny bit possible. So with her encouragement, I applied and within a couple of days they told me I’d been accepted.

What did you have to do to apply?

The application requires a writing sample. Everyone gets in solely on that basis – they don’t look at a CV and they don’t ask for any personal details, they just want to read your writing. The criteria on the website is pretty tough, they say things like ‘the Director will stop at the first sign of a typo’. It was rather intimidating and I was thinking that the chances of getting in were minimal!

Was it a tough road to get there, in terms of cost?

The tuition was very expensive, particularly with the exchange rate, but it did include accommodation on campus for a pretty reasonable add-on price. I was in an awkward position because I was at the tail end of my Masters and not yet in my PhD program, so I didn’t have access to traditional postgraduate funding or travel fellowships. Not being at that stage yet, I was thinking I would have to get a mortgage and then maybe I could go!

Wait, did you actually get a mortgage?

(Laughs) no, I crowdfunded. My friends and family were so supportive; it was actually amazing that people wanted to help. I thought I might get a few hundred dollars towards it – I didn’t dream that I’d end up getting the amount that I wanted, which was just over half of the tuition fees. Aside from my family and close friends, it was also incredible that internet friends—some of whom are also writers who have followed my career from literally being a Tumblr blogger, to what I’m doing now—popped out of the woodwork and supported me, it was just incredible. Very humbling.

What did the Yale Writer’s Conference involve, exactly?

It consists of two sessions which take place over fourteen days. The sessions involve workshops with a chosen mentor in groups (often dictated by genre), craft talk lectures, master classes, student and faculty readings, and plenty of networking events. For each session, you submit a manuscript a month beforehand to your group, and you come prepared with responses for each of your workshop mates. In kind, they each provide you with feedback in your workshop sessions and you take turns of being in the ‘hot seat’.

The craft talks were incredible, featuring people like Amy Bloom, Michael Cunningham, who wrote The Hours, David Ebershoff, who wrote The Danish Girl, and Lev Grossman, who wrote The Magicians. It was amazing just breathing the same air as these people, let alone hearing their wisdom for two hours.

For session one, you also get to do a Masterclass with a chosen mentor. I did Claudia Rankine’s masterclass – she’s a very famous, talented poet. I think she’s the only person to have her book of poetry on the top of The New York Times bestseller list. It was like being in a room with royalty, honestly. Claudia Rankin was so regal, she was something else. She asked us to write a story in ten minutes – so there I was, my hands shaking, reading one my stories to Claudia Rankin, which was not intimidating at all! But she was wonderful, she talked about the themes within each person’s story in the most insightful and gentle way.

But the big personal growth thing is really the workshops. They go for just over three hours, but when you’re in the hot seat, it feels like forever. Having people critique your work— sometimes very harshly—and just navigating the different personalities, it was exhausting. My first session was very intense and, at times, very uncomfortable and confrontational. But in the second session I had a much gentler, relaxed group of people, and it was all very positive.

Unfortunately, I was so drained from the first session that I didn’t have much energy to give to the second session! If anyone was considering doing it, I’d say do one the sessions, but not both. The first session goes for ten days and is more involved, and the second one goes for four days and it’s much shorter and sharper. Those new people came in fresh, with so much more energy than I was able to muster after the intensity of the first session.

Did you build up a positive community of writer friends during the conference?

Within the third day, I had become part of what was known as ‘The Squad’. These were some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met in my life. It was akin to a seminal period in a person’s life—like your first week of high school or university—where you make those friends you end up having for the rest of your life. All of a sudden you’re with likeminded people; your tribe. You’re all having this really vulnerable experience where you’re essentially being broken down, as a writer and as a person, and you just bond with one another.

Being an anxious writer type like myself, did you ever second guess your abilities as a writer while at Yale?

You know what? From people who have just started scribbling some poems, to international bestsellers—we all have imposter syndrome. The more writers you meet, the more you become immersed in the world, the more you realise that. But of course, knowing that doesn’t make it stop!

Leading up to the conference, I was on the verge of a mental breakdown. There had to have been some kind of mistake – why was I chosen to go to this? I couldn’t compute. The day of my flight to New York, I had to wake up at five am. The alarm went off and I sat up and just started crying. My boyfriend literally had to hold me together to get me to the airport. I just kept saying that I didn’t want to go. It had been this crazy build up— all that pressure to do well and so much fear that somehow I would fail.

But from day one of the actual program, I didn’t doubt anything. I didn’t compare myself to anyone, because it was immediately clear how pointless that would be. You see all these different writers at different stages of their careers, and you realise how just lucky you are to even be in this whole, crazy world. We all know how unlikely it is that we’ll make it— that we’ll become famous from our writing, or even make any money. But somewhere inside, we all still believe that we’ll be that one person that will make it. That’s why we keep doing it. I think to be a writer you have to have that ego to drive you – you’d give up if you didn’t.

You also see writers who have ‘made it’ in the traditional sense and they still feel like imposters sometimes! Even the famous ones or the ones that got the six-figure book sale, the famous literary agent, or the Big Five publisher etc. I think, just seeing all the levels of anxiety that all writers have, and the different type of success (or not) that happen – I realised, you just have to do it for the love of it. That’s the whole thing; it’s all you have.

This dream of being a writer is probably the most impossible, silly idea I’ve ever had – but I’m going to do it anyway. Because I can’t not.

Did you develop much knowledge of how the publishing industry works?

I already knew how it works in Australia, but it was very interesting to see how it all works on the world stage. The New York publishing industry is the big time, obviously. One of my teachers there is a very cool, interesting person who had great success early in his career, and he talked about how he went into it with stars in his eyes, thinking everything was going to work out for him now that he was published. But even though he was ‘successful’, he still got churned around in the belly of the publishing beast, and spat out the other side.

His summation of his experience was so insightful. It was nihilistic, but it was comforting in a way, because he’s come out of it knowing that he’s just doing him. It doesn’t matter if the next book sells, he’s just going to keep writing for the love of it. Although, the next book will sell. I’ve read parts of it and it’s great!

Meeting the literary agents was very interesting. We don’t necessarily have to have agents to get published as writers in Australia, but in America you don’t have a chance of getting published really unless you have an agent. Learning about how they sell their client’s books in to book editors within the Big Five publishers was very eye-opening.

Across the board, they said that an authentic, unique voice was the most important thing that they look for when answering queries from authors about their books and deciding who to take on as clients. It was humbling being near them because they are the most coveted people in the industry; with one single ‘yes’ they can change a writer’s entire life, but they were all really lovely people, very down to earth.

It was also interesting to learn about independent presses in America, self-publishing and opportunities like Kindle singles, which are smaller works of up to 30,000 words published by Amazon and very lucrative for authors who sell them successfully.

What would you say to an Australian writer who is thinking of applying?

Do it, absolutely. It’s a game-changer. If you don’t have access to academic conference funding, crowdfunding is the way to go. I would recommend going with a manuscript already written, in case you get that coveted chance to pitch to an agent or publisher, but plenty of people I met didn’t have that and still got a lot out of the experience.

Stay on campus because you miss out on the immersive experience if you stay in a hotel. Choose one session, the first one (ten days), if you can afford it. Be prepared to be broken. Bring shower shoes.

Did the Yale Writer’s Conference change you as a writer?

Going to Yale was such a crazy experience, it definitely changed me. When I got back to Melbourne it took me a few weeks to recover and get my thoughts together. I couldn’t even talk about it until I had some distance, because for me it was shattering in every way. But it definitely shows you if being a writer is what you really want. It’s what I really want.

You can find out more about the Yale Writer’s Conference by visiting their website:

Image courtesy of Eloise Faichney.