Member Profile: Siel Ju

What’s the first book you remember reading?
Since my memory of early childhood isn’t so great, how about the last book I remember reading? I just finished Transit by Rachel Cusk. This largely plotless story of a female writer having conversations with people she comes across really engrossed me with its quiet philosophical insights and revelations about humanity—all our little motivations and rationalizations about what's OK and what's not, who to be, how to live.

Name one person who has helped form or shape your creative identity. How so?
I feel like every writer whose work I’ve read has influenced me in some way. A few major influences: Mary Gaitskill, Lorrie Moore, Lydia Davis.

What book do you think everyone should be reading right now?
Most recently, I loved Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart.

What is the worst advice you’ve received as a writer? And what is the best?
I feel like the timing of the advice matters more than the advice itself. The worst advice that comes to mind right now is write what you know—not because this hasn’t been valuable advice for me in the past (it has), but because holding to it now would limit me as a writer. At a certain point, you really run out of things you know and have to be willing to go into the unknown.

During a class visit while I was an undergrad, Mary Jo Bang opined that workshop can sand down and smooth out a creative work too much, leaving it unobjectionable but ultimately boring. It taught me to embrace the ugliness in my writing.

Who would be your ideal literary dinner guest (living or dead) and why?  
Maybe Shirley Jackson, if she doesn’t drink too much during the meal? I don’t like it when people get sad by dessert…

If you could be one fictional character, who would you be and why?
Alice in Wonderland, but only if it’s a lucid dreaming type situation where I know it’s just a dream so I don’t get too frightened. Also, the Cheshire Cat would need to be hypoallergenic.

What does the freedom to write mean to you? In what ways has this affected you personally?
The freedom to write is one among many freedoms that I really take for granted way too often. My only struggle has been in finding enough free time and energy to write—but even on that front, I’d say I’ve been pretty lucky overall. I often feel I should whine less and write more.

Tell us one way you feel a person can be a good literary citizen.
Because I give a fair number of readings, a lot of writers ask me how they, too, might get invited to do more readings. However, many of these writers rarely go to readings themselves! So I think one way to be a good literary citizen would be to make it a point to go to readings that are not your own. They can be fun!

Siel Ju lives and writes in Los Angeles. Her novel-in-stories, Cake Time, won the 2015 Red Hen Press Fiction Manuscript Award. Siel is also the author of two poetry chapbooks. Her stories and poems appear in ZYZZYVA, The Missouri Review (Poem of the Week), The Los Angeles ReviewDenver Quarterly, and other places. Siel is the recipient of a residency from The Anderson Center at Tower View and Vermont Studio Center. She holds a Ph.D. in Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. She gives away a book a month at