Written by Caleb Flachman
Photographed by Lindsay Higgins
Claire sits outside Books and Beans, arms folded, legs crossed, absently noting that frogs are croaking somewhere behind her. When asked a question, she pauses carefully, adjusting her glasses and bouncing her Keds until she finds the best possible phrasing. She seems to be rifling through some enormous dictionary that exists just outside tangible space.
Claire is studying Creative Writing and minoring in Spanish, but language isn’t the only thing she cares about. As we talk, she often mentions an enduring fascination with science that she inherited from her mother, who is an X-Ray technician. “I would sit on her bed and she would quiz me on all the bones in the body,” she says. “I have this really random knowledge of orthopedic structure,” knowledge that, like the facts she draws from many disciplines and experiences, works its way into her writing.
She lists the North Carolina towns that she was raised in: Denver, Sparta and King. I haven’t even heard of them, but she tells me this isn’t uncommon. Apparently, most people mistake Denver for the one in Colorado, and Sparta is just a large Christmas tree farm. She says growing up in these small towns played a crucial role in her development as a writer: “I remember going to antique stores with my mom when I was little, and finding old paintings to make up stories about. I liked to think about who lived in the houses and landscapes and things, who their families were, what they named their dogs. I still do this – I just write it down, now.”
MarBut if her mother took her into the world, her father led her into literature. The love of story is something Claire attributes primarily to her father: “On the weekends, he’d always take me to the bookstore and let me choose whatever I wanted. Even now, he considers books a ‘living expense.’” Claire does, too.
The first stories Claire wrote were mostly fantasies about fairies and elves who got together and had “felf” children. “I really thought that was going to be the next thing,” she laughs. “I was going to popularize it. But sadly that never happened.” In high school, Claire began taking creative writing classes and focusing more intently on her craft. After garnering more experience with poetry and full length short stories, she began encountering challenges: “A lot of what I wrote in middle and high school was very esoteric and convoluted—like, to the point of not being understandable. I had to figure out that simplicity is the power of a story. I try to keep that in mind when I write now. Because I think that’s the real magic—tapping into the raw thing of an idea and seeing where it takes you.”
In her current work, Claire emphasizes realism and psychologically authentic characters. She prefers exploration to exposition: “zeroing in on one person or situation or set of circumstances and trying to figure out as much as I can about that particular place or person.” Among her favorite authors she lists Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor—O’Connor for her ability to infuse stories with nuanced religious themes and Carver because his stories, “ring with a strange kind of poignancy you can’t quite put your finger on.”
Claire plans to go to graduate school and pursue a degree in literature or linguistics, “or really anything having to do with writing.” But here, in this moment, she stops to laugh. A chorus of frogs has just interrupted her mid-sentence. I doubt anyone else would have noticed.