The Sweetest Debut: Jericho Parms on Falling In Love with the Art of the Essay

Welcome to the Sweetest Debut, a new and regular installment in which we reach out to debut (or near-debut, we’re flexible!) fiction, poetry and nonfiction authors working with presses of all sizes and find out about their pop culture diets, their writing habits, and their fan-fiction fantasies. 

Jericho Parms’ Lost Wax (read the title essay here) finds the writer contemplating art and objects, especially those in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and connecting them to threads in her own life and recollections. She told Flavorwire about re-reading Didion, endless revision, and her early dreams of being a food vendor in Midtown Manhattan.

What is your elevator pitch to folks in the industry describing your book? jerichoparms_photo

Lost Wax is a collection of coming-of-age essays that examine the way art, memory, and life intersect.

What you tell your relatives it’s about?

I tell them to read the book!

How long was this project marinating in a draft or in your head before it became a book deal?

A while. Many of the essays began in my head when I was spending a large amount of traveling and looking at art. When I was in graduate school those ideas began to take shape as complete stand-alone essays. I spent about two more years arranging and polishing them into a cohesive collection (writing into the gaps where needed, etc.) before finding a publisher for the manuscript.

Name a canonical book you think is totally overrated.

Great Expectations.

Name a book you’ve read more than two times.

There are a few. Every couple of years I reread Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Baldwin’s Notes on of a Native Son, Virginia Woolf’s Moments of Being — books that made me fall in love with the essay.

Is there a book or other piece of art that influenced your writing for this particular project?

So many! The book was largely conceived during the years that I worked in an art museum, so art is central to many of the essays. If I had to single out one or two pieces it might be Bernini’s Daphne and Apollo as an old-school example, which captures the moment in Ovid’s Metamorphosis when Daphne, fleeing Apollo’s embrace, turns into a laurel tree. On the contemporary end of things: anything by Columbian sculptor and installation artist Doris Salcedo, whose work with furniture and other domestic objects concretizes absence, collective memory, and loss.

What’s your favorite show to binge watch when you’re not writing?

I have a weakness for crime detective shows, which I can’t really explain. I’m also hopelessly drawn to Spanish-language dramas like Gran Hotel and Velvet.

Do you listen to music while you’re writing? If so, what kind?

No, hardly ever. On occasion I might put on something international like Françoise Hardy or Gal Costa, but it’s rare. I admire people that can do it, and sometimes I wonder what I might be missing, but I find music, as its own form of language, too distracting.

If you could buy a house anywhere in the world just to write in, where would it be?

The west coast of Ireland.

What did you initially want to be when you grew up?

When I was young I had lofty dreams of owning my own food cart on a piece of prime street-corner real estate in the city, like outside of the Met or down by Rockefeller Center. By the time I reached high school I wanted to be a photojournalist. My senior year project was photo essay on street vendors, so I guess in some way I was keeping the dream alive.

Do you prefer writing in a buzzing coffee shop or silent library?

I’d split the difference and opt for a bookstore café.

Do you sit at a desk, bed or couch to write?

Wherever. I’m not very good at writing for hours on end, so I tend putter around a lot. Restlessness feeds my focus.

Are you more of a morning writing or late-night writing type?

Morning writing always feels like a gift. Late night writing tends to feel like an obligation. I’d rather be in bed with a book.

Do you tend towards writing it all out in one big messy draft and then editing, or perfecting as you go (or something in between)?

One big messy, near incoherent, rambling draft… then another… then another… then about five more revisions.

How do you pay the bills, if not solely by your pen and your wit?

A trifecta of writing, teaching, and administration: I’m the assistant director of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts,parms_lostwax_cover and I teach in the Professional Writing Program at Champlain College.

What is your trick to finding time to write your book while also doing the above?

I’m afraid I haven’t mastered any tricks, but being around writers and students definitely helps keep my motivation up. And writing things down as they occur to me — keeping a notebook (à la Joan Didion) as a stockpile of ideas, fragments, things overheard or observed — is key, and serves as kindling for the moments when I do find time to write.