Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Piper J. Daniels, and I’m thrilled to say I’m a writer. My debut essay collection, Ladies Lazarus, received the Tarpaulin Sky Book Prize, was longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay, and was named one of Entropy’s favorite nonfiction books of 2018. I am in the process of completing my second book, El Mirage, which focuses on love, gender, illusion, and the Sonoran Desert. I worked for many years as a ghostwriter but burned out on narcissism and moved to full-time manuscript consultation, where I help working and aspiring writers see and improve upon the beauty of their work.
I am also a queer intersectional feminist, a #KamalaHarrisForPresident supporter, and a proud inheritor of bipolar one disorder, which I manage but would not cure, as it is the true source of my magic.
I am newly married to someone I’ve known all my life and walk through the world in an unspeakable state of love. I am also the mother of two insane but charming dogs and a very stylish cat.
How did you get your start?
I was born into this world obsessed with books and insisted they be read to me ad infinitum until I had them memorized. In this way, I learned to read, and began a love affair with the library. Writing was borne of reading, a natural extension. It is the only thing in my life that has ever felt organic, or connected, or like it belongs to me.
I got my BA from Columbia College Chicago and my MFA from University of Washington and was lucky to have three of the most incredible mentors—David Lazar, Jenny Boully, and David Shields—who challenged and shaped me educationally, formally, lyrically.
My first book is less than one year old, which means that I am both ancient and brand new in the writing world.
What inspires you?
Kafka said that a book should be an axe for the frozen sea within us, and he was absolutely right.
I want to be a lightning rod for the raw things others shy away from. I want to address queerness, suicidality, mental illness, religion, body image, and sexual trauma, in a way that facilitates deep connection with those who have lived it, but still allows me to communicate an understanding, logically and empathically, with those who have not.
It is also crucial that my work be formally innovative, creative, nonlinear. That I am carving new forms from the old ones that would not make room for stories like mine.
What do you like about Arizona?
As a Seattle transplant, I am deeply in love with palm trees and three hundred something days of sunshine. I would live all spring and summer, if I could, in a kayak on the Salt River, surrounded by wild horses. I love the seemingly Martian terrain of Sedona and the hushed trails of the White Tank Mountains, where ancient history is ghosted upon the rocks. I love that this is a place that calls to people on artistic and spiritual quests. I love the idea that the desert, seemingly antithetical to life, is actually lush with a variety of life forms that flourish unnoticed because they have learned so well to survive. I also love that nearly everything in the desert—a wrong turn, any animal—can kill you.
In the city, I spend a lot of time at the Phoenix Art Museum, which is expertly curated. I also love the exquisite, queer-owned barrio, whose kind staff housed our wedding reception last year.
Where can we see your work?
My first book, Ladies Lazarus, is available at piperjdaniels.com, and through the Tarpaulin Sky Press website. Both locations have links to reviews and featured essays. I also participate in readings, moderate panels, and headline speaking engagement in Phoenix, Tucson, and occasionally, on tour. All scheduled events, as well as rates for manuscript consultation, are available [on my website]. Recent works appear in Entropy, Longreads, The Rumpus, Hotel Amerika, and The Dirty Spoon. Interviews and reviews of Ladies Lazarus are published or forthcoming from Publishers Weekly, Windy City Times, VIDA Reviews, and Punctuate.
What would you like to accomplish before you die?
What’s most important to me is just to continue. To be a working writer who is true to herself and her mission, and a thoughtful, inspired, and supportive wife. I want to be a compassionate, educated, and responsible citizen, and a good daughter, sister, friend, and mother to the people and animals who love me.
As someone with bipolar one disorder and its accompanying traumas, I hope for stability and strength.
As a human being, I hope to remain in awe of and in love with every little thing.
Other than that I want to publish widely, travel to the far corners of the earth, and fulfill my father’s dream of Oprah knowing my name.
The way things are going, I’m just happy I’ll have my favorite human beside me when the apocalypse comes.
What is your mantra?
I have more than one.
When I was trained in Transcendental Meditation, I was given a mantra and told I must never share it with anyone. It is maybe the only secret I’ve ever kept.
My writing mantra, courtesy of Annie Dillard:
At its best, the sensation of writing is that of any unmerited grace. It is handed to you, but only if you look for it. You search, you break your heart, your back, your brain, and then — and only then — it is handed to you.
And this is the loving kindness mantra I send each morning to the people I love most:
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you ride the waves of your life.
May you live in peace no matter you’re given.