Treefort Music Fest Highlight: Erin Rose Belair’s Writing Journey

When you discover Erin Belair — also known as Rose Blacque — through her writing, your own truth will begin to root. She is an inspiration. She writes for those who cannot form the words. She resonates with them, and replenishes them. A storyteller’s importance is simple in this aspect, and vital for the energy of action. Through her writing she reminds us: You are alive. That is her power.‬

Belair is a writer from Southern California who earned her MFA here at Boise State University (BSU) studying with incredible writers like, Mitch Wieland, Brady Udall, Nicole Cullen and Denis Johnson. At BSU Erin worked on the editorial team of The Idaho Review literary magazine and taught undergraduate writing classes while writing her thesis, Vinegar.

Vinegar is a stunning collection of fiction, highlighting continuous healing and self-transformation. Since, she has been on the road writing travel essays and is currently working on her first novel. Erin returns to Boise for Treefort every year and was this year’s Storyfort fiction feature.

Belair writes intimately. Resinating with our thoughts, feelings and passions, like the parts of ourselves covered — our sacred body parts. To share herself, open herself and strip completely, displaying her vulnerability, intrinsically instigates each reader to live their lives, by her living hers. Who we are supposed to be will always find us and remind us, even if we attempt to ignore its alarm, it will ring. 

I sat down with her to find out a little more about her process and journey in becoming the dynamic writer she is today.  

Photo by Jenavieve Belair

RIZE Entertainment: You’ve created a dreamscape, a writer’s dream, type of life for yourself. You write everything from copywriting to essays, short stories, and currently working on a novel. Congratulations! But who takes your photos? Are you a photographer too? A model? Anyone who follows your IG or your blog wants to know.

Erin Belair: I do shoot some of them. I shoot mostly film but the good ones that you see of me — my sister’s an insanely talented photographer. A lot of them are from her and then before when I was doing a lot of the travel writing my boyfriend at the time was also a really talented photographer so he would do a lot of the travel ones. Usually people that I’m traveling with, and then if I’m traveling alone, I try to get into self-portraits and do that but they’re never as good as my sister’s

RIZE: I saw your story in Glimmer Train and read you were published in a few others. How did that come to fruition? How many submissions, rejections, before an acceptance?

Photo by Jenavieve Belair

EB: So many rejections. Glimmer Train was a huge win for me because it was my first publication and it happened right after I graduated. My car was packed. I was driving back to California, and I got the phone call. The timing of it for me was a huge deal—just really encouraging to keep going, “You did the right thing. You didn’t just waste 3 years of your life.”

So, I won that one and then a couple months later I got the publishing in Narrative. The editor of Juked, Ryan Ridge, used to be a teacher of mine. He published the next one and the story I’m reading later today is in The Greensboro Review. So that’s four or five wins, but for every story that gets published there’s a hundred times that I probably sent it out.

I always tell people, just keep sending them out. Because really, it’s an odds game, it’s luck. You got to find the right magazine, on the right day, with the right editor. Who’s reading it, who’s in the mood to read that thing. A story can be really fucking good and still not get published for a really long time. Maybe whoever’s reading it had a shitty day, or they read it at the end of a shitty day, or something you wrote reminds them of their ex-boyfriend, so all of a sudden, they hate your story. You never know, they’re people too. 

RIZE: What made you decide to get an MFA after a BA? How did you choose your program? Was the application process anything like the process submitting for publication?

EB: I decided to get an MFA because I wanted to carve away a really serious time to dedicate myself to becoming a writer. I was serving tables and doing a bunch of odd jobs and stuff and that’s the best thing that an MFA gives you is time. The only reason I applied to Boise State — I actually didn’t even know about the program — was my mentor Ron Carlson who I studied with when I got my BA in California. He was like, “I’ll write your letter of recommendation, but you have to apply to Boise State. It’s amazing you have to move there.” So, I included it in my applications, and it ended up being the best decision of my life. And I got accepted so that was a big deal too.

Photo by Jenavieve Belair

RIZE: BSU has a great creative writing program and some really great writers and teachers on faculty. Can you give us a glimpse into your time there? For those interested in pursuing that path. What was it like? What was a day in grad school like?

EB: I loved it. I can’t recommend it enough. I meet people all the time and I’m like, if you’re going to apply you have to apply to Boise it changed my whole life. When I was there, I studied with Mitch Wieland and Brady who ran the program. Nicole Cullen came in and taught while we were there. Denis Johnson was there my senior year. Then I worked with Christian a lot who wasn’t teaching in my program, but we were really good friends, and the community here is so incredible.

Here you teach, so I would teach and then I would write and go to class in the evenings, go to 10th street and have a beer after class, and rinse and repeat for like 3 years. But just a lot of time to sit down and work, which was what I really needed. Which is what everyone needs. And it gave me the opportunity to do that. It put me around people who were taking me seriously. It taught me how to take myself seriously. People that understood what I was struggling with too. People that got how hard it was or, that a whole day can go by and you write one sentence and that makes total sense to them. There’s a lot of camaraderie and I think that saved me.

RIZE: Any great mentors that played a role in your career? And how did that come about? How did you find them?

EB: I mean Christian Winn here in Boise, he completely did such good work with me on my thesis, helped me edit everything, and he continues to support me. He’s the one that brings me to Storyfort. So supportive of my work as a mentor and a friend. I’ve just had the luck of being around really good writers. The writers that I studied here with, are still the people I send stuff to and the people whose opinion means so much to me. My ex-boyfriend reads everything I write. He still edits all my work.

RIZE: Within your fiction, how much of it is fiction? Specifically, with your characters like Andy in, “A Place Like This” or Joanne in “Rare Items from the Universe”? Are they completely fabricated, or do they resemble somebody somewhere sometime?

EB: I think all fiction resembles something somewhere sometime. It’s all super based in reality but then also completely made up. “Andy in A Place Like This” was based on an experience that I had in Montana, where I was up there for the summer and this little girl really had stepped in a dead deer in the river. I was so blown away by it that I was obsessed with it and I ended up writing that story. My ex is from Montana up in the Yak and the area up there had such a huge impact on me, spending time with him up there, that whole story specifically is rooted in his life there. We’re thinking about turning it into a short film. That would be such a dream.

Photo by Jenavieve Belair

RIZE: Is the writing life lonely?

EB: I think it can be. That’s why I loved an MFA. You spend so much time by yourself and working by yourself. I have really wonderful people in my life—they keep me not lonely, but I think the work, especially now being out of the program and being on my own for so long, it can be really really isolating. It’s hard sometimes. It’s one of the reasons I put so much stuff on the internet and why I use Instagram as a platform. It’s just like to reach out-side of myself and outside of my work to remind myself that people are reading and I’m not totally alone. That helps keep me sane. My blog and my Instagram definitely remind me that there’s people out there that are hurting or reading or whatever.

I get really cool messages from people, especially mostly women. People that are just like, “I’m heartbroken,” or “I feel this way and I can’t believe that you can put this into words the way that I feel, and I can’t even talk about it.” And for me that’s the whole reason I do what I’m doing is to help. The idea that someone would be out there and feel less alone because of something that I wrote — that’s the whole point, for me. 

RIZE: You said something once that always stuck with me. You said, “It is easy to feel selfish and a bit insane to dedicate your life to something like writing. Because who am I to spend my time doing something that inherently does nothing? These thoughts get louder lately, in a world so split open at the seams…” At that moment what do you do to get out of that rut, to continue? I’m sure it’s a continuous process. But you’re still here so what’s your regime to sustain yourself as a writer?

EB: I think it’s easy to feel like what you’re doing isn’t important when there’s other writers that I really admire that are doing really good social justice work, political work or environmental activism. There’s so much that you can do with writing and I think at that time I was really feeling like what I was doing was selfish, but I don’t necessarily see it that way now. I think it helps people in a different way. Every day I have to remind myself, “It’s okay. Sit back down.” I talk myself off the ledge every day. Especially with the novel. I’ve started over like four times. I’m never going to finish it.

RIZE: What writing do you recommend to everyone? A favorite book? A favorite writer? Is there anything you always go back to?

EB: Joan Didion. I’m obsessed with her. I closed my writing the other night with a quote from her. I think that’s always my first recommendation for people, which is funny because it’s really her non-fiction that I love and is a huge inspiration for what I do, but she is always my go to. If you haven’t read “Slouching Towards Bethlehem,” start there.

RIZE: What advice do you have for young aspiring writers?

EB: Sit down and start writing. It would be my advice to any writer. It’s my advice to myself every single day. I think it’s really romantic to think about writing. It seems like such a good idea—and it is. If you want to do it then do it. But the hardest part is sitting down to actually do it. It’s the discipline in sitting down to get it done. My advice to someone starting out would be the same as someone that’s been doing it for ten years, get your ass back in the room and sit down and start writing.