INTERVIEWS


by Jessi Cole Jackson

Ani King

Ani King lives in Lansing, Michigan with her husband and two very tall children. She has a fondness for short stories and long summers. You can find her at thebittenlip.com.

Jessi Cole Jackson: You mention in the comments following “Butter Face” at EDF that all of your stories tend to be sad and “[butter face] is one of my least favorite expressions ever, so I had to use it.” What draws you to telling sad stories and embracing unpleasant expressions? How do you go about tackling such weighty issues as rape in as few words as flash fiction allows?

Ani King: I can’t seem to stay away from the more uncomfortable elements of life. In some ways it’s probably therapy, a way to excise the past without telling my own specific stories. In some ways I’m trying to give my younger self a stronger voice, and fiction affords the opportunity to find and tell stories that don’t leave me so exposed as the autobiographical would.

In some ways I think flash fiction affords perfect length for stories about terrible things. By nature flash requires that your point or story be concise, almost densely packed. I think the more difficult thing is discovering which angle to tell the story from so that you’re not just using the shock value of the situation to make impact. I don’t care for stories that turn people who have been victimized into two-dimensional plot devices, and with flash, authenticity is something that is immediately noticeable.

JCJ: Would you tell me a little about your writing process?

AK: I’m the least organized writer. I have this ridiculous “Ideas” document on Google Drive that I constantly add to and edit from. Once a story seems to have enough flesh I move it to its own document and then, depending on the story, ignore everything and devote myself entirely to its care and keeping. That part isn’t true all. Between work and family and too many hobbies I pretty much write whenever I get a chance, unless that chance comes easily. Ten minutes between meetings—yes! Whole day off with nothing planned? Nope. Gonna sit here and watch Netflix in my bathrobe. In terms of research I tend to wikipedia-hole myself, but that often leads to more ideas.

JCJ: One of my favorite aspects of your story is your protagonist’s voice and the juxtaposition of her outward strength and size with her inability to fight back, either physically or verbally. Even retelling her story to us, she comes as almost timid. It made me, as a reader, want to fight for her. Is this something you did intentionally? Did you hope readers would respond in a particular way? How did you find her voice?

AK: I started weight lifting a few years ago to combat some joint and back pain due to a long hours desk job. I’ve never been particularly athletic or coordinated, so getting to a point where all of that clicked—the controlled movement, the awareness of what your body is capable of, was a really cathartic thing. I’ve never been interested in bodybuilding, but I’ve seen the effort and control it takes, and I started thinking about how difficult it would be to suddenly feel as if all that work were for nothing. Female bodybuilders in particular are ridiculed by people for their physiques, even in very subtle ways, so I feel like that must tie in even more with those societal expectations for beauty. We also tend to assume that outward strength denotes aggressiveness and so on, so in some sense, yes, the juxtaposition was very intentional.

I think the reaction I most wanted from readers was for them to feel connected to someone who frequently is presented as a caricature. Finding her voice was a lot easier than expected—I’ve talked to a number of other rape survivors, and there tends to be a sense of wryness after a while. Particularly with women who are not considered conventionally attractive and who have been greeted with a mild sense of disbelief, or even a hint that maybe they should consider themselves lucky that such a handsome man was interested in them. It’s revolting, and a lot of us use darker humor to stave off the real horror of hearing those offhand comments.

JCJ: What was the hardest part of writing “Butter Face”? Do you have a favorite part of the story?

AK: Writing the actual rape scene is a close second to writing the ending. I wanted to convey what happened with enough sense to make readers feel it, but without being graphic. Being in that headspace is hard. It’s an icky place to be. As far as the end, that’s always where I struggle. Where does this part end? Where do I leave her? Is she ok? Do we need to know that?

JCJ: What are you reading? Who are some of your favorite authors?

AK: Oh! I love this question! I’ve been reading a lot of short story collections lately: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves, by Karen Russell, is fantastic. The title story is incredible.  Also, Get in Trouble, by Kelly Link, and The Wilds, by Julia Elliott. Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood definitely has some teeth to it, and her take on aging is so beautifully done. I also tend to read a lot of online magazines and journals: Every Day Fiction, of course, and freeze frame fiction. Apex, Clarkesworld, Pank, and so many more. I love how accessible the internet has made literature as a whole. I tend to gravitate towards authors like Lidia Yuknavitch, Neil Gaiman, Catherynne Valente, Margaret Atwood, and most recently the Phryne Fisher series by Kerry Greenwood.

JCJ: What projects are you currently working on? Can you point readers to some of your other stories, either forthcoming or published?

AK: I’m currently working on a series of linked shorts inspired by a magical realism piece I wrote last year: http://roseredreview.org/2014-winter-ani-king/. Also a sci-fi short story loosely inspired by the Pig Prince fairytale, and a literary fantasy novella. I have upcoming publications in freeze frame fiction’s YA Volume, Pidgeonholes, which is newer and really lovely, and a poem in Spry Volume 6. All of my previous publications are listed on my very low traffic blog.

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Jessi_Cole_Jackson-150x150

Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she builds costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at  jessicolejackson.com.

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Road Kill CollectionThere is something about the term “roadkill” that catches the eye, particularly when it’s on the cover of a book. And when the poor animal in question happens to be a stuffed bunny, there is no doubt that what is contained between the front and back covers should be investigated.

Jon Sindell’s The Roadkill Collection does not disappoint—a turn of the last page leaves the reader wondering what hit them. He meanders across miles of emotion and causes sharp intakes of breath, bursts of laughter, and shakes of the head. For example, in “The Muffin Man,” Sindell gives us a glimpse of a girl’s experiences with homeless ministry and how an innocent gesture can cause the path to turn.

In Gregory’s tent, I lay on his shoulder. He smelled like liquid soap and earth. He laid his hand on my belly so gently, I could almost feel a baby in there. (“The Muffin Man”)

A parental nightmare of a different kind appears in “Victory Torch,” where the main character crashes (and burns) in the hallowed halls of the Ivy League.

Sindell conquers many subjects, from love to gardening to sports, and back again. One of the shorter pieces called “That’s Not Love?” takes the reader on a swift trip through the less sensual side of parenthood and thin-walled apartments. The angst of barely concealed disappointment and hatred rings through in “A Zinzinnati Red”, while the depth of a mother’s love is apparent in “Insidious.”

Who loves this country. You think I don’t? Think this purple heart don’t mean anything? That it don’t mean a thing that my name’s Schmidt, and some of the guys I shot coulda been Schmidt’s? … First one guy hits his fist in my cheek, then they all join in … I spit out a tooth, and out my blood pours. Commie red. (“A Zinzinnati Red”)

There is sharp wit in this book that leaves scars. In “One Clear Shot,” the reader is treated to graduation day and a mom who’s waited for just the right moment to get a little closer to even with her ex-husband. She delivers a verbal “mortal wound” that takes the soul of her victim in style.

The love of the game (baseball), nature, and the great writers of history all speak clearly though the stories presented in Roadkill. While this is Jon Sindell’s first flash fiction collection, it will hopefully not be his last.

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Andree-New

Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

by Aliza Greenblatt

blunk_team

Dan Blunk is an aspiring fiction writer who loves stories of all kinds, golf, the outdoors, and a nice bourbon on the backyard deck as the sun goes down behind the mountains. He lives in northern Colorado with his wife and dog.

Aliza Greenblatt: What inspired you to start telling stories? How old were you? Who are some of the authors that influenced you? Favorite books?

Dan Blunk: My family was pretty book-crazy. My mom was a librarian and so some of my favorite parts of my childhood were going to the library with my two younger brothers and reading and letting my imagination run wild. I was pretty young when I thought I wanted to be a writer, probably seven or eight. Around that time I started a ‘novel’ a time-travel story with dinosaurs and adventure and a daring male protagonist. I’d go up to my room, write a couple chapters, and come down and give them to my parents to read. They must have thought I was nuts, but they really encouraged me. I read a lot, but one book that I really connected with as a kid was a book called The Missing Persons League by Frank Bonham. It’s a dystopian story about a high school kid trying to track down his dad, who is missing. I was in fourth or fifth grade when I read it and it blew me away. I was so entranced I said to my mom how cool it would be to actually talk to the author about it. She got the publisher’s address and told me I should write him a letter. So I did, and he wrote back! It was really exciting, I was such a nerd, I thought that was the coolest thing ever. It was a formative experience in my life. We carried on a correspondence for a while, it just made me want to write more. Other authors I love are Ray Bradbury, Raymond Carver, Ursula K. LeGuin (Earthsea Trilogy is amazing), Michael Chabon, Stephen King, so many others. I’ll read anything that interests me.

AG: You mentioned on EDF that Rig #9 was your first published story. Congratulations! What a great way to start your fiction endeavors. Can you tell me about your writing goals, both some long term and short term ones?

DB: Thanks! It was a pretty exciting thing for me. I’ve always kind of thought of myself as a writer, but only in the last two years or so have I gotten ‘serious’ about it. I started taking classes at a place called Lighthouse in Denver, it’s an outstanding community of really talented teachers and writers and going there has really energized me to actually apply myself. They have really taught me to have fun but to take responsibility for developing myself as a writer by reading a lot, critiquing the work of others, and just keeping at it, never stopping. I fell in with a group of writers and we started our own writing group (Knife Brothers!) and it’s a lot of fun. We get together every month at someone’s house and have some wine and some food and chat and share and critique each others’ latest stuff. That has been really energizing for me, it forces me to work hard because I don’t want to show up with nothing for the group to talk about! As far as goals, I would like to keep working on short stories and flash fiction, which I really love, but eventually I’d like to try writing a novel or screenplay.

AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?

DB: For me, things start with a kind of day-dreamy ‘what if’ chain of thought. I have always had a very active imagination, and I’ll see something in real life and that will spawn a chain of questions. For example, I’ll see a guy walking out of an assisted living facility wiping tears from his face and I’ll just imagine, ‘what happened in there? Is his dad sick? How do they get along? Did they argue all the time when he was growing up?’ And it will just go on like that, I’ll have this spur-of-the-moment exploration of possibilities in my own brain. That starts way before I ever actually write anything down. I have a day job that I really enjoy and that challenges me a lot. In order to make time to write, I started getting up around 5:30 and spending 45 minutes or so. I’m not that great about doing it every day, it’s a tremendous feat of discipline and I really admire people who can stick to a regimen like that.

AG: One of my favorite parts of this story was the voice. Immediately from the opening line, the mood was set and it was clear that even though the narrator is an old hand at this business, he also has a good grasp on literature and the local history. How did you find the voice for this piece? Or did it find you?

DB: Thank you very much. This piece started with my wife wanting to go for a drive. We live in northern Colorado and there are a few little ghost towns to the east of us, and as you get away from the mountains you get into the windy, flatness of the western Great Plains. It’s a hauntingly beautiful place, with the tall grass and the wind and the open sky, but it’s incredibly inhospitable and it feels hostile and alien and it just struck me as very powerful and it just got my creativity flowing. So we went out to see one of the ghost towns and it kind of started the day in the creepy old-West way. Then we drove to a really cool hiking place with all these big rock formations and while we were out there I started seeing all these oil wells pumping. So then it was a little bit of a lightning strike moment for me, I imagined this old oil rig worker dealing with something that had happened to him that he couldn’t really explain, but I wanted him to be trustworthy and intelligent, someone who is more than just a simple roughneck because I wanted to present the nuance that I imagined when I heard him in my head. So I think the voice came from a deep connection I had with that place and it kind of flowed from there.

AG: What were some of the challenges of writing this story? What are some of your favorite parts?

DB: I would say my main challenge was making the voice of the main character ring true. The first part kind of came to me, but I had to work hard to maintain the voice and keep momentum going in the story and, hopefully, give readers a payoff in the end. My favorite parts are probably when the narrator is at his gruffest when he talks about what an idiot the Kid is, and the way the birds gather together to form the shape of the Kid, that image just bubbled up from deep in my subconscious and frankly scared the hell out of me.

AG: What other projects are you working on now? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

DB: I am working on a couple short stories, I am due to submit one to my writing class in a few weeks, so I’m working hard to get that into shape. I’m also working on a few flash pieces that kind of came out of a trip we took to Florida during the holidays. I haven’t submitted in a while, but I should have some things ready to submit by spring.

 

ED: This is Aliza’s last EDF Top Author interview. I want to thank her for her time and effort in providing us with these interviews and wish her well with her future writing endeavors. Beginning in March, Jessi Cole Jackson will take over these duties.

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Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt.

 

 

by Andreé Robinson-Neal

Nancy Stohlman

Have you ever read something that made you feel the space of the characters, like what you’re reading isn’t about someone else—some fictional them—but a very real and present you? Nancy Stohlman’s The Vixen Scream takes you there, whether you want to go or not.

The room smells musty, like wet clothes were shoved and left to die in all the corners. (Death Row Hugger)

Stohlman offers a you a seat on a rickety coaster ride—not one of those break-neck affairs that rushes you from start to finish and leaves you unsure of what happened, but that one ride at the carnival you’ve always been afraid of because there are things in the dark that sneak up and grab you unawares. What do you say about falling in love with a homunculous of your boyfriend? If you’re Lazarus, do you long for Jesus or the tomb? What is the “regular life” of a Jehovah’s Witness like?

I’m not saying I’m proud of how it all went down. But maybe if those collection agencies hadn’t been calling me all the time. After avoiding another 800 number last Saturday morning, I looked over at you sleeping, lips pursed, eyelids fluttering, all mussed up like a baby koala, and I thought: there are plenty of people out there who would pay good money for that. (I Pawned My Boyfriend for $85)

vixen-cover-final

The prose is hauntingly beautiful, to the point you bite your lip because you know something is coming, but you don’t know what and the anticipation is killing you and then, there it is: the vixen, ehem, just had fox babies and let them run off. Of course it’s fantastic, unbelievable, impossible, but is it really? If you read The Quickening, you’ll believe. Stohlman answers every question you’ve ever thought to yourself in the darkest night, including “what’s the cost of a broken heart?” and “what would a sculpture of my spite look like?”

There are tales that will make you laugh and then immediately look around in wonder, because it might not have been appropriate to giggle at such an experience. To wit:

One morning Mr. G woke up without his penis. It was just missing. There was no blood, no struggle. He tried to remember when he’d last seen it. Certainly he’d gone to the bathroom before bed? Yes, the unflushed toilet confirmed. (Missing: Reward)

The snickers are sure to continue as Mr. G looks for his lost appendage in the bedsheets, piles of clothes, and ultimately in the butter dish. There are moments that will make you wonder if you should stop and cry, or simply agree and keep reading. And just when you’ve gotten in the groove with the vixen and the fox, there are real fox statistics to make you think. Yes, Stohlman educates as well as entertains.

But there is an underlying something that adds a shiny brilliance to each piece. You want more, but the stories are so very complete. Of course you want to know what happened next to the magician’s assistant, but psychically, you already know. As you let out the breath you’ve been holding for a hundred-plus pages, you realize you’ve reached the end, and you want more. Find it at www.nancystohlman.com.

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Andree-New

Andreé Robinson-Neal got bit by the writing bug back in the late 1970s while watching Rod Serling and reading Ray Bradbury—both of whom are everyday inspirations; although she has worked in education for more than a quarter-century, she has never been cured of her penchant for speculative fiction. Find some of her flash fiction at starvingartist.com. She writes under the name AR Neal, who will hopefully one day be identified as a famous NaNoWriMo participant.

by Aliza Greenblatt

amybw01

Amy Sisson is a writer, book reviewer, crazy cat lady, and former librarian. Her fiction ranges from Star Trek work for Pocket Books to the short stories in her Unlikely Patron Saints series, which have appeared in Strange Horizons, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and the Toasted Cake podcast site. She enjoys making artist trading cards, studying German and Japanese, attending Houston Ballet performances, and traveling with her husband, Paul Abell. Her story, On Not Noticing a Bear, was EDF’s top story for December

Aliza Greenblatt: I’m going to start this interview with an assumption so, correct me if I’m wrong, but if I read your blog correctly you started off as an avid reader (and still are) and picked up writing later. When did you decide to become a writer? Was there one particular story or moment for you?

Amy Sisson: In college I double-majored in English and Economics: English because I was thrilled that I could get a degree by simply reading books and then saying what I thought about them, and Economics to try and be a little more practical. In my junior year, I got it into my head that I wanted the “romantic” writer’s life—I thought I would strike forth on my own to live on the other side of the country, work odd jobs while I polished my masterpieces, and so on. (I may have been on a John Steinbeck kick at the time.) But I found out that I really didn’t have that much to say in my stories just yet.

I never gave up the idea of being a writer, but I decided to get a graduate degree in Space Studies, both so I could get a decent day job in that field and to gain some background knowledge for writing science fiction. Later I also got a library degree. None of that was my original plan, but now I can’t imagine a different path to my writing.

AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?

AS: For me, most stories start with voice. Sometimes I know what the voice will be ahead of time, and other times I just type a first sentence and let the voice decide itself. I’ll admit that I’m not one of those writers who have fifty different ideas to work with at any given time—ideas that are big enough to become complete stories are really hard for me to develop.

The process for every story is different. A few of my stories seemed to just write themselves in a few hours, but on the other end of the spectrum, I have one story that I worked on over the course of fourteen years! The end result has very little resemblance to the story I started with, but I think it has ended up being one of my best, and I’m currently sending it out to markets.

AG: I really liked the versatility of this story. On one hand, it felt like a children’s fable but there were also deep undercurrents of adulthood worries, such as workplace unhappiness and loneliness. Was that your intent or did you have a particular audience in mind for this story?

AS: On Not Noticing a Bear is based on one of my favorite James Christensen paintings, which is literally titled Lawrence Pretended Not to Notice that a Bear Had Become Attached to His Coattail (Google for the image “lawrence notice bear” and it will come right up). It hangs over my piano and it was the most natural thing in the world to write about why that silly little man might try so hard to ignore the bear. And of course I wanted them both to have a happy ending. Oddly enough, my other Every Day Fiction story, The Lion Tamer’s Sock, is also based on a Christensen painting and it also has to do with a companion animal and with getting out of a rut.

AG: The thing that drew me into the story immediately was its voice. How did you develop it? (Or did it find you?) Was it a challenge to maintain the storytelling style within the flash fiction length?

AS: This was one of those stories that I started with a sentence and it just flowed from there. The original version was actually 1500 words, but I realized that I could take it down to flash length without losing anything important. I also think that this sort of affected writing style works best with flash fiction, because you don’t want the reader to get tired of the voice before they reach the end of the story.

AG: Can you tell us a bit about your Unlikely Patron Saints Series? Are you still adding stories to the collection?

AS: This series of stories is about little miracles, and people who discover they’re meant to protect some unlikely group of creatures or people through some small magic. The first one I wrote was about city squirrels, because I was in library school at the time and there were so many squirrels on the downtown campus that I was always petrified I would see one get hit by a car. So I made up someone to protect them. I called that one number three in the series even though it was the only one I’d written, as a way trick myself into eventually writing more of them. I’ve had four stories in the series published in different venues, a few more still unpublished, and a frame story to go around them for an eventual collection. I think I’m likely to write a few more, but I want them to come naturally instead of trying to force them so I’m in no hurry.

AG: What other projects are you currently working on? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?

AS: I recently left librarianship to concentrate on writing full-time. My two main goals are to finish a young adult novel (I’m about a quarter of the way through) and to have a minimum number of short stories out looking for a home at any given time.

My favorite of my Patron Saints stories, Fella Down a Hole, is available free in the Strange Horizon archives and as a Toasted Cake podcast. Another one, Minghun, is also available free at Strange Horizons. And Waterfall, a standalone science fiction love story, is available free at Khimairal Ink.

AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.

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Aliza profile-pic-2

Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night.   Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper.   She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter  @AtGreenblatt.

 

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