Don’t Write Alone | Interviews

A Conversation with ‘Best Debut Short Stories 2021’ Author Lindsay Ferguson

“Writing at a slow pace—or along the contours of what life personally looks like for you—is still writing.”

Best Debut Short Stories 2021: The PEN America Dau Prize are open now


Where did you find the idea for this story?

I’d been wanting to write a story about friendship for a while. Obviously, in my story, the narrator’s feelings for Claudia evolve beyond friendship, but I started writing it with that rough framing in mind. I think a lot about how Black women care and show up for one another—how so often we have to—and how my friendships with other women have been some of the most meaningful relationships of my life. So I wanted to explore some of the layers there and the depth of platonic love. I think, above all, the narrator cares deeply about Claudia as a friend—she wants her to see that she deserves more—and even if her desires for a romantic relationship go unfulfilled, that fact wouldn’t change.

How long did it take you to write this story?

The form of “Good Girls” is one, long, breathless sentence that covers an impressive range of emotions and sensations, and remains rooted in a single, present moment while also moving back and forth in time. What made you decide to write “Good Girls” as one sentence? Was that your plan for the story’s structure from the start?

The narrator’s grandfather warns Aunt Rikki not to bring her friends around the narrator and her cousins because they’re “good girls.” What is a “good girl,” and how might this pressure to conform to that role affect Claudia and perhaps also the narrator?

The ending lines are lingering and enigmatic: “. . . I’m watching Claudia stub out the cigarette with the bottom of her shoe, watching her round the corner of the alley as she smooths the back of that stupid pink uniform that they make us wear, even though it stains like hell, even when we scrub and scrub and scrub at the grease until our fingers are white and raw, even when we know that some things, once they’re set deep enough, can never be washed away.” What forces in Claudia’s life do you imagine as these “things” that “once they’re set deep enough, can never be washed away?” What about for the narrator and other queer Black women?

How has the Robert J. Dau Prize affected you?

What are you working on now?

What’s the best or worst writing advice you’ve ever received and why?


Finally, where do you discover new writing?

Twitter has played a big role in helping me discover new writing. I’m constantly being introduced to new-to-me authors, stories, publications, classes, and writing opportunities, and it’s definitely my main reason for staying on that app. I also browse a lot of local bookstores to see what other readers and booksellers are recommending—Two Dollar Radio Headquarters and Gramercy Books are a couple of my favorites here in Columbus.