A Brief Q&A with Author Emily Hessney Lynch
Lynch's story, "It Is Perfectly Normal," appears in the Winter 2022 collection of Online Exclusives.
WTR: The speculative element of this story — trauma manifesting as a swarm of bees, which follow the narrator wherever she goes — feels like one of those ‘bolt-from-the-heavens’ ‘flash-of-inspiration’ ideas we all chase as writers. How did the idea for this story first take hold of you, and how exciting was it?
EHL: A few years ago I started getting massages at a bougie spa with two unlikely animals as its name (my husband always mistakenly called it ‘Ox & Muskrat’) in an attempt to practice self-care. My overactive brain struggles to turn off during massages, and every time, I would lay there and wonder about the massage therapist and what they’re thinking. Do they judge people’s tattoos or fat or hair or smell or calluses? Are they worrying about their own problems? They must see bodies of all shapes and sizes. What was their training like? What drew them to this line of work?
I had long wanted to write a story about a massage therapist. I attempted a one-sentence version where the massage therapist was ultra-controlling and thought they knew everything about their clients, but their insights always turned out to be wrong. I needed more space to explore and play. When I finally sat down to write a longer massage story, the bees just showed up and the massage therapist character fell away. I didn’t know what to do with the bees, but I just ran with it.
WTR: There’s a lightness, a gentleness to this story, even when it goes to some dark places. Given that this is told from the perspective of a first-person narrator, what went into the process of finding the right voice for this story?
EHL: It was tricky! I knew the protagonist was living in uncertainty. I never wanted there to be harshness or bitterness that invaded the story, even as she tried to rid herself of the bees. Through working with the West Trade Review team, I was able to clarify the voice and lean into the gentleness even more. Despite the narrator’s anxiety and fears, she develops a bit more confidence and can lean into self compassion in ways that she wasn’t able to (before the bees or the feedback from WTR!).
WTR: The title of the story, “It Is Perfectly Normal,” acts almost as a refrain, repeating several times throughout. How early in the writing process did you arrive at this phrase, and once you had it, how did that inform the rest of the story?
EHL: It’s funny, I’m terrible with titles. This was originally just called “Massage,” and the story isn’t really about the massage. As I was getting ready to start submitting it, the phrase “it is perfectly normal” in the opening scene with the massage therapist jumped out at me. I added it two more times in the story and called it a day! After even more revision thanks to excellent feedback from the West Trade Review team, I think the ‘it is perfectly normal’ refrain works even better than it did originally.
Emily Hessney Lynch (she/her) is a short story and memoir writer. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Sledgehammer Lit, The Plentitudes, Lilac Magazine, Gastropoda Lit, Spellbinder Magazine, Pastel Pastoral, and others. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and their three rescue dogs. You can follow her on Instagram at @ehl_writes or visit her website: www.ehlwrites.com.