Interview: Mikayla Mislak

Mikayla Mislak is a young writer. She recently graduated from Ithaca College and was awarded with magna cum laude. She is an editor in chief and writer at Odyssey Online.  

Congratulations, Mikayla, on winning our November contest with your story, “Rotting from the Inside”! What was the inspiration for this story?

Once again, I feel honored that my piece was selected to be featured in the November contest. The inspiration for this story actually goes back to a friend that I had in high school. I have only been to her house once, and it left a lasting impression. Much of the setting that I used for this short story was inspired by her house, including the bizarre collection of fur coats in the bathtub. While Lin and Tracy are completely fictional characters as was the action that occurred in the story, that house is most certainly real. It was a shock for me to see that some people actually lived like that, in a mess and in a place completely devoid of warmth. As I grew up, I realized this wasn’t as uncommon as I was led to believe. So many people live in deplorable housing situations or even without houses at all. What I still can’t wrap my head around is that this house was in plain sight and no one intervened or investigated to make sure that my friend was alright. I myself did nothing to intervene. As humans, we tend to have this instinct to ignore the presence of something disturbing. We will often step past the homeless person sleeping in below freezing weather or skip past the disasters on the news. With this piece I wanted to bring the “rot on the inside” to the forefront to show that even people that appear to be happy can come from horrible backgrounds.

What does a typical writing day look like for you? Any writing rituals?

A typical writing day for me is usually an entire day I set aside to write a huge chunk of writing. Though I do try to write a little bit everyday. I have several journals and I’m always churning out a flash fiction piece or two. Occasionally, I’ll even experiment a bit with poetry. I have to write with music though, usually it will be indie rock or electronic music but occasionally I’ll put on some classical music or even some pop if the mood calls for it. I don’t have a specific writing playlist though, like some of my writer friends. I also have to write with a glass of water or tea by my side. The more stuck I am, the more hydrated I tend to be. I also usually can’t write early in the morning or late at night, as my brain is mostly offline at those times. I’m constantly taking mental or literal notes about the world around me. Everything from my dreams, snippets of conversation, or random observations and facts can be used as inspiration. As such, my desk is a perfect example of organized chaos, covered in notebooks and pieces of paper of little bits of those daily doses of inspiration. I must look like a maniac when I write though. My long stretches of feverish typing are occasionally punctuated with an outburst of excitable yelps, giggles, or even a full conversation to myself or my characters. But I suppose crazy is just part of the writing process, right?

What type of books do you like to read and who are some of your favorite authors?

Here’s where my youth and inexperience is really going to show. This question is very difficult for me to answer for the simple fact that I am not nearly old enough to be considered “well-read” (whatever that means). I’m still trying to get through the classics like Native SonAnimal Farm, and The Scarlet Letter. And I feel like I have so much catching up to do. I feel the same frustration with my youth in regards to my writing too. I still have yet to create my own “style” and and I have so much still to learn about not only writing, but also myself. The good news is that this period of growth and discovery can be quite exciting. I have a feeling though that even when I’m seventy years old, I’m still going to be frustrated with all that I don’t know/haven’t read.
But to actually answer your question, my favorite things to read are stories with a romantic note to it. I like stories filled with tragic events and characters that come from horrible upbringings, but ultimately I need there to be hope in what I’m reading for me to truly enjoy it. I’m an optimist at my core. This doesn’t mean that everything I read has to have a happy ending, but I tend to be not as interested if there is no hope for any of the characters in the story. I love to see characters that overcome their troubled past. I like my stories to be like dark chocolate: bittersweet. Additionally, if there’s a bit of a wit to the writing, then all the better. Although, whenever I try to explain this to a librarian or a bookstore clerk, they just hear “romance” and lead me to the harlequin novels, so I’m aching for some good recommendations. But if it helps at all, my favorite book of all time is Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. And my favorite authors are Kevin Brooks, Charles Dickens, and William Shakespeare.
Can you tell us what are you working on at the moment?
Like I mentioned before, I’m always working on my journals, short stories, flash fiction and nonfiction, and the occasional bit of poetry. I’ve even worked on a couple of scripts. Currently though, my big project is my first real novel. I’ve been chipping away at it for a little over a year and I’m writing up the last chapter right now. After a series of edits, I plan on sending it out in the world. As to whether it actually gets published is anyone’s guess. But I learned so much about myself as a writer and a person. Plus, it was a blast to write! And it made for a really fun senior project in my final year of college.
The story involves a very intelligent and arrogant high school student named Hyde, who goes through life bored, indifferent, and always playing a role rather than being himself. His calculated facade gets thrown a curveball when he meets Chris, an equally intelligent student that sees through Hyde’s front right from the get-go. While they have a bit of a rocky start, their mutual appreciation for music leads them into a romance. Things get complicated, however, when Hyde’s abusive and homophobic father re-enters the picture.
Interview: Mikayla Mislak