In the Spotlight: Kristin Offiler

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Kristin Offiler's writing is unfussy and clean, like spring water. Her scenes are patient and direct – and you can get a sense of this even from the middle draft published here. It's her careful, measured pacing that allows you to feel cared for, so you can let go and experience the story.

It's such a pleasure to read a writer who is in control. Can you feel it, when you read the excerpt below? She doesn't let her scenes meander, nor does she keep them on a too-tight plot leash. The trouble her characters face feels real, but she doesn't over-sentimentalize or force the drama. Most of all, I love the way she lets an image show you its own intelligence, without mediating or overstepping in and through her writing of it. Read the passage below once, for enjoyment. Then read it again and pay attention to soil. What I mean is: what is dirt saying about dirt in this piece? Kristin gracefully lets the image say it – in its own language – and she stays out of the way.


Kristin Offiler

Meet Kristin

Kristin Offiler lives on and writes from a quiet peninsula in Rhode Island. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing – Fiction from Lesley University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and is currently working on a selection of short stories. She is also working on the bones of a potential novel.


Handwriting or computer?

Both – handwriting first to get things started, and then computer to flesh the ideas out.


Page count or time count?

Time count.


First drafts or revision?

Revision. For me, first drafts sometimes feel like ambling around inside a dark house. Revision is like having the lights turn on, room by room.


Writing solo, writing partner, or writing group?

Writing solo for creation, writing group for feedback – they are invaluable readers.


Earplugs/quiet or headphones/music?

Quiet, or white noise (like a coffee shop’s hum).


Why do you write?

Our world and the people in it fascinate me, and writing is an opportunity to experience different lives and discuss what it means to be human. I think it’s important to do that, and to connect with others’ experiences. For as long as I can remember, I’ve just wanted to tell a good story and lose myself in reading a good story. Writing is magic-making. And truly, it’s the one thing I’ve always felt natural at doing.


What's the best advice you would give a new writer?

Read as much as you can and find your community. Reading constantly will keep fueling your desire to write, and a trusted community will give you a place to find accountability, support and connection. Community can be one other person you check in with monthly via email, or a writing group of 5 you meet with weekly over coffee. It doesn’t matter. There’s endless value in having people around who understand what it’s like to fit writing into life. Even if it takes years to find, seek out your trusted tribe.


Tell us about the excerpt you’re sharing today.

This excerpt is from a piece that’s still in what I consider the beginning stages. I workshopped it in the spring with my writing group, but have yet to revise it and have instead rolled the story around in my head. I find this gives me some useful distance before revising.

This story sprung from one of Sarah’s writing prompts. I imagined a woman in an old farmhouse sweeping slanted floors while her scientist/professor husband was gone all day. The woman, Betty, has lost her only child and isn’t quite sure why she’s still with her husband, except that they’re older and this is just how life is. But then there’s the baker in town, and Betty’s drawn to him.

I wondered how two people who have experienced the same loss might handle their different ways of grieving and letting go in the shadow of an already-failing marriage.


Exerpt from Betty and the Scientist, by Kristin Offiler

They kept only one coop of chickens now, having quit with the cows and horses when the funeral drained their savings.

On three separate occasions, Betty found her own gold jewelry in the dirt where the animals were once penned. The pieces glistened in the sun just enough to catch her eye.

She held the dirty jewelry in her hands, marveling that they had fallen off and she had never gone looking for them – the thin gold chain and two gold hoop earrings. They were like fossils in her palm, and she was like an accidental archaeologist of her own life, pulling up artifacts she never meant to find.


Peter came home at 6:30. Betty handed him one bunch of hydrangeas and without a word they walked out the back door into their yard. Under the early summer dusk, everything was beginning to bloom again.

They walked past the weathered shed and two weeping willows just starting to wake up from winter. They walked into the family cemetery plot and stood by Sophie’s headstone. She was buried next to Betty’s mother.

Peter cleared his throat. He was behind her, pausing before he said, “Will we do this forever?” It was the first time he’d asked this, and the words rose up Betty’s spine like a zipper being pulled tight.

“What do you mean, will we do this forever? Will our daughter be dead forever? Then yes,” she said.

There was only the sound of the creek off to the east of their property and Peter’s sigh. She knelt in the soft dirt and placed the flowers on the ground.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Peter said, placing his flowers next to hers. “I just want to know when we’re going to let her go.”

Heat swept over Betty’s body as she stood up.

“You can let her go if that’s what you want,” she said. “But don’t you dare tell me what to do. My grief is my own.”

“But it doesn’t bring her back.” He reached out to hold her elbow. She shook him off. She started back towards the house, the tears coming fast and strong. When she reached the shed, Betty turned back. Her heart felt like calcified bone that had been chipped apart.

“This was all we had left, Peter. Just this.”


When Sophie was four, Betty gave her a book of poetry for children. She wanted to pass writing down to her daughter like a family heirloom.

They co-wrote a poem each day when Sophie was growing up. The first one was this:

Soil looks like broken cookies
Tastes like old paper
And falls through your fingers
Just like water

Betty knew some truths about soil. For example - soil is just broken rocks. Soil is erosion. Some plants won’t grow in very acidic soil.

At Sophie’s funeral, Betty lifted a bit of soil from the grave and pressed it to her tongue to be sure. It was acidic. And it did taste like old paper.


Note: These monthly spotlights showcase Mysterious Middle Drafts (MMDs). That means they are somewhere between first drafts and final drafts. This is a challenging stage! Emerging writers bravely share their work-in-progress here for discussion, but this is not a book review or critique: this is a venue for the appreciation of Mysterious Middle Drafts. Thank you for making this writing space safe and supportive.  

Discussion:

  • What remains with you after reading Kristin's work?

  • Can you articulate what’s working in this excerpt – and more importantly, why it’s working?

  • How is your own writing practice like Kristin's? How is it different?

Please leave a comment below. And thank you, Kristin! 


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8 comments

Mary Nicholson

Oh Gosh...where do I begin. Let's begin with the dirt, since that was the question posed. Dirt=play, and dirt=burial plot. That't what caught me. Like a mom had been so busy with her child, or farming, that her earring fell off...and now she finds the remnants of a life lost. Wow. What stays with me in this passage is a desolate grief. "When will the grief end?" We don't know, but want to keep on reading to find relief. What really worked for me was how Kristin accesses so many senses in her scenes- feel, taste, sight, and intellectually, speech. She does such a great job painting the scene because she draws at so many levels for the details, and whether intentional or not, is gifted in the use of symbolic metaphor. Like Kristin, I am indebted to the "tribe" of peers we have found it through SSMind. Writing needs to be done solo, I think, but sharing it with trusting writers with good taste is invaluable.
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I remember first reading this story when we workshopped it with Kristin. Kristin has this particular knack you can notice in all her stories for creating a sense of space and place so palpable you're projected, and when you examine how she did it, you find it's in the subtlest way, hard to pick out, a combination of simple words, carefully chosen so as to be so powerful you're familiar with the place you've never been to. As Mary said, Kristin's great at drawing at so many levels for details. Nothing is overly descriptive but everything is as clear as a clean window. This excerpt showcases exactly the pieces I loved the most. And yes, the dirt in all three sections. Perfect. A great middle draft, perhaps closer than Kristin knows to the end, rather than the beginning.
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Natalia Sylvester

Wow. Thanks for sharing this, Kristin. It's so wonderful to have a chance to read your fiction after knowing you via your blog and twitter for the past couple of years or so. I absolutely agree with both of the comments above so I'll just add this: aside from the subtle imagery and the vivid picture painted, what struck me the most was the dialogue. So much said in so few words, and still in voices so true to the characters. In one line of dialogue we understand the kind of person Peter is, and his struggles. And before Betty has even spoken a word I felt like I already knew her, so the way she responded only deepened my connection to her. Really, really beautiful.
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Kristin Offiler

Thank you so much for this thoughtful response, Mary. As always, you're seeing things in my work that I hadn't consciously thought about! xo
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Kristin Offiler

Thank you, Steph. I never noticed my obsession with place until you started pointing it out to me! Very grateful for your feedback, always. xo
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Kristin Offiler

Thank you for this thoughtful observation, Natalia. I admire your work so much, and having this feedback from you is just priceless. Hope to share more of my fiction with you soon! xo
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I look forward to Kristin's short story collection and novel. She is wise and poetic. There is poetry in Kristin's narrative as a result of the sparing way in which she creates a world for her reader to fall into. I feel the terror of grief the slow crawl of the healing in this part of the work - it stands out the most for me. I write solo but wish as a poet I had a group to mend poetry fences with. Absolutely enthralling work here.
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Christine Bagley

Simplicity and honesty are the first words that come to mind while reading Kristin's middle draft. The truthfulness of Betty's grief and her inability to let go resonated with me. It was not overdone or forced, allowing me to feel the emotion in my own way. What worked for me is the poem that Betty and Sophie wrote. Again, the simplistic tone, a moment of closeness shared with her daughter, that stayed with me because of its honesty. I write because of the same reasons that Kristin does. I LOVE to tell a story, I LOVE to read a story, I LOVE to hear a story. It's all about the story for me.
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