A Little Help from the Crowd: Writer Laryssa Wirstiuk Uses Kickstarter to Fund Short Story Project The Prescribed Burn

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While Jersey City resident Laryssa Wirstiuk is best known to our readers as JCI‘s food writer, the 27-year-old can write about way more than sweet summer treats or organic food co-ops.

For almost five years, Wirstiuk has been working on The Prescribed Burn, a collection of 15 short stories centered around an aspiring artist named Veda through her teenage years and early adulthood.

“They’re different moments in her life that shaped her as an artist, and what’s unique about the story collection is that it’s not told in chronological order, it jumps around in time,” explains Wirstiuk, who added that she began writing the stories while studying for her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at the University of Maryland, which she received in 2009.

“I started writing it mostly because when I was in grad school, I needed to do a thesis to graduate. That happened to be a collection of short stories. The first few stories I wrote were from my thesis and some of them were loosely based on things that happened to me or were inspired by things that happened to me or friends…although they’re not exactly true-to-life. After school I kept adding and revising and it became a pretty serious project,” she says.

Some of the stories were inspired by Jersey City, which Wirstiuk frequently visited as a young girl despite growing up in Morris County.

“My whole life I’ve been coming to Jersey City to visit my grandma so I’m very familiar with it…there’s one story called ‘Smuggling a Boy into Baba’s,’ and a lot of that story is in Jersey City. It’s loosely based on my grandmother’s house so some scenes are descriptions are of her home and the things I admired about it. I like that story a lot because it represents my home and represents Jersey City,” she says.

Wirstiuk adds that she moved to the city in 2009 largely because she enjoyed her visits to JC so much. “I finally decided to move here because I like it so much and I felt comfortable here. I love the diversity, I love the arts and culture of it and I love the fact that I get to write about food in Jersey City because there’s always new stuff happening,” she says.

Other stories in the collection involve other New Jersey towns, such as the sample story on her website, “Fireworks,” which focuses on two girls skipping their senior prom and heading down the shore. For Wirstiuk, however, the relationship between the story’s main characters stands out more than the Pine Barrens, Wildwood or any other location it mentions.

“I like that one just because I like the friendship that kind of develops between these two girls, the way they care for each other and the dialogue they exchange,” says Wirstiuk.

Another stand-out is the story from which the collection takes its name. A “prescribed burn,” Wirstiuk says, is when forest environmentalists set fire to a group of trees to get rid of dried-out trees and prevent natural forest fires.

“It’s something they do a lot in California and do in New Jersey to pine-bearing trees…I loved this idea of having to kill something or burn something so in the future it will make it better or prevent something worse from happening,” says Wirstiuk. “It’s a concept my character struggles with in the book literally and metaphorically.”

After years of work, Wirstiuk says she is finally satisfied with all 15 tales.

“The most challenging thing for me is accepting when a piece is done, because obviously, you can keep revising something forever…but now I feel really confident with my book. I feel it’s done and it’s the best I can possibly make it at this time,” she says. “I have to move on to new things and I need closure with this book to do that.”

Now, Wirstiuk is raising $5,000 to self-publish the first 1,000 copies of the book through Kickstarter, a fund-raising website where supporters can donate money to a project and receive rewards. For example, pledging $5 will get you a The Prescribed Burn bookmark with photographs and a quote from the book among other items. For $15, you get a free e-book/PDF version of the book along with all the awards for the $5 pledge level.

With the June 29 deadline of her campaign fast approaching, Wirstiuk has already raised over $3,500. All the money will go to printing costs, Wirstiuk says.

“I’m going to try to sell them all myself and hopefully use that money to print more copies,” she says. “It’s a way to share my writing and put it out there.”

“I don’t know if I write because it’s rewarding — I do it because I have to,” adds Wirstiuk. “When I’m not writing, I don’t know what to do with myself. I have a lot of creative energy so it’s a good outlet to express myself…it makes me feel productive and creative…I’m producing something I can be proud of.”

For more information about The Prescribed Burn, visit the book’s official website. For more information about Wirstiuk, visit her personal website or blog.

Photos courtesy of Laryssa Wirstiuk

a freelance arts and entertainment writer whose work has appeared in the Jersey City Independent, The Jersey Journal, the International and other publications. She is also a creative writer and theatrical director.