When I say you should buy copies of CLS Ferguson’s debut nonfiction collection of flash memoir, Soup Stories, I do so with a bias: I edited it.
When I first sat down with her stories, I was quickly drawn in by this narrator’s love of the place she worked, as well as how she handled the touchstones of growing up: school, home life, and first loves.
I recently sat down with Ferguson, a professor who paints, sings, acts, models, and produces independent films, at a local coffee shop to discuss her collection, our editorial relationship, and what she learned along the way.
The Rumpus: What made you want to tell this particular set of stories?
CLS Ferguson: The stories started before the collection, if that makes sense. So when I was first dating Rich, my husband, way back in 2011, I started telling him these funny stories about what happened in Souplantation. He didn’t know me as a Souplantation worker, so he found these stories very funny.
I’d tell him [about] the first time I got high, or conundrum on the soup bar—those stories that have that kind of this funny situation happened feel to them. And he said, you’ve got to start writing those down. So I started writing them down and then, when I had fifty or sixty, I thought, maybe I have a collection. And that’s when I thought I should contact you.
Rumpus: You were actually the first person who ever asked me to edit something in an official capacity.
Ferguson: When you did that first pass, there were, like, sixty-five stories. And you wrote me this beautiful letter. You said, “Here’s what I see as the narrative arc; here are some subplots; here’s what is missing in your stories.” That’s exactly what I needed. That’s what was certainly missing.
Some of what you suggested didn’t occur to me. But you said, “It’s all in the Souplantation. Can we go outside the Souplantation? I need some air.” I remember coming home with your notes and I sat down and I just started writing titles of these memories that just popped up. I had been so stuck on I have to be one-hundred percent factual, like a journalist, and that’s not really what it is. It’s not one-hundred percent exactly how it happened.
Rumpus: That’s what I love about memoirs. Everyone experiences the same memory differently. And you used this flash memoir format.
Ferguson: Because that’s how memories are, right? Little flashes.
Rumpus: How did you feel when you got my editorial letter? Was there any moment when you wanted to kill me?
Ferguson: Honestly, I thought you might write back and go, This isn’t ready. This is just not ready.
You didn’t say anything that was critical at all. I mean, yes, you gave me feedback, but I didn’t feel it was critical. I had hit my wall, and you opened up all these different windows.
Rumpus: Was there anything in that edit that you didn’t see or understand?
Ferguson: Well, the two big things were: every piece kind of ended the same. It was like ‘here’s this quirky thing’ and da-dah-dah. And you were like, We need some variation in the style here. And also it was mostly funny, or mildly humorous. So you were like, We need to know more about who this person is, and we also need to know her outside of the Souplantation. And also, you said, You allude to this maybe-rape thing. What? That’s a lot to throw at the reader. So either take it out or do more with it.
Rumpus: I think that was the most nerve-wracking piece of advice I wrote. Because obviously that’s a very sensitive, hard subject to write about. I also bonded so much with the narrator because she was this hyper-responsible teen/young adult. But she’s also a teen/young adult so she’s not always going to make always the best decisions.
Ferguson: It’s funny because my mom read it and one of the things I told her so many times was, don’t assume everything I say happened exactly the way I wrote it. So she read it and loved it and said, “You were a teenager! I mean, I’m glad I didn’t read it when you were a teenager, but you are an adult. You are fine. Everything is fine.”
Rumpus: What is your favorite thing to order at Souplantation?
Ferguson: I always get the wonton happiness salad. Which used to be wonton chicken, but they don’t put chicken in it anymore. Then I get a little tuna tarragon pasta salad and a little bit of cheese and some beets and some black olives. And then I get a little soufflé cup of ranch dressing. I don’t put it on the salad. And then I go to the bakery and get a blueberry muffin and a brownie bite and a soufflé cup of honey-whip butter. And two or three pieces of pizza—those will get dipped in the ranch dressing. And if I get hot pasta, I will usually go for the mac ‘n’ cheese or the marinara. In terms of soup, I love the chicken noodle, the corn chowder, the French onion, sometimes the clam chowder. And if it’s nighttime, whatever their dessert is, I usually get a chocolate lava cake. I’ll put that at the bottom of the bowl and put Oreo crumbles and vanilla ice cream and then chocolate and caramel drizzle. And just water to drink because that’s plenty of calories.