Thu 27 Mar 2014
by Aliza Greenblatt
Audrey Kalman has been writing and editing professionally for more than 30 years. She has published short stories, poetry, and flash fiction, as well as the literary novel Dance of Souls. She currently serves as editor of the Fault Zone anthology published by the Peninsula branch of the California Writers Club. Her blog about writing appears at http://audreykalman.wordpress.com. She lives northern California with her husband, two children, and two cats.
Aliza Greenblatt: Your blog says you’ve been writing professionally for over thirty years, but have only recently started fiction writing. What inspired you to start? Did you begin by writing novels or short stories?
Audrey Kalman: I guess I’d better edit my blog… I’ve actually been writing fiction since I was seven, when I wrote my first “novel”—a complete rip-off of My Friend Flicka by Mary O’Hara. I was a creative writing major in college and wrote a novella as part of my thesis. Then I took up writing professionally after getting a journalism degree. Fiction became my hobby and I switched to short stories for a while. Dance of Souls, which I published in 2011, was my fourth novel. The other three are in a desk drawer where they belong.
As for inspiration, writing is a bit of a nervous compulsion for me—I can’t not do it. I began all those years ago out of a desire to both inhabit other worlds and understand my own world better, and that’s still my motivation.
AG: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?
AK: Do you know the Longfellow poem “There Was a Little Girl?” The end goes:
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.
That’s kind of how I am with my writing process: sometimes very disciplined and sometimes not at all. To finish my last novel, I made a writing date with myself every weekday morning from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Sometimes I’d go longer, but I always forced myself to write for at least an hour. It worked magically. Since then, my commitment has been more sporadic but I’ve still managed to complete six short stories. Also, in terms of process, I’m very much a “panster.” I don’t outline. I let the unfolding process of writing guide me. It feels a bit like sculpting—feeling my way toward the work hidden inside the stone.
AG: What were some of your favorite parts to write in Now You Are a Public Nuisance? What were some of the more challenging?
AK: My favorite part to write was the end, when the narrator “comes into her power,” as they say in the self-actualization circles. It felt thrilling to step outside the rigid boundaries of the suburban sidewalk with her and do something subversive. The most challenging part was getting the voice right. I don’t usually write in second person. I started writing the story that way, then rewrote the whole thing in first person before deciding that second person suited it better.
AG: There is a running theme in the story of appearances versus reality. In some ways, the wildness of the narrator’s garden was the only public thing of hers that wasn’t trim and neat. Do you think the narrator was waiting to rebel, but didn’t quite know it? Do you think she will keep on rebelling in the future?
AK: To me, the story is very much about the conflict between acceptable social constructs—conformity—and the assertion of individuality. Where and why do we draw those boundaries, and who keeps us inside them? I think the narrator knew she was not like others in her tidy neighborhood but never dreamed that she could do something so renegade. In her world, thinking outside the box is acceptable, but acting outside the box is in a different league altogether. I think her rebellion definitely surprised her.
I hadn’t thought about whether her act of defiance with the hedge trimmer was the first of many. Perhaps it will be her first step down the road toward becoming a criminal—or a social activist!
AG: The narrator seems to be looking for happiness and yet she stresses the disappointments in her life, like she stresses the words that mislabel her. Why do you think the narrator chose the wrong things and why do you think she changed?
AK: I don’t believe her choices seemed wrong to her at the time. Conformity and comfort have much to recommend them and she couldn’t quite imagine living a different kind of life. Only in retrospect does she realize those choices led her to a place she doesn’t feel comfortable inhabiting. Although we don’t know her exact age, she is somewhere near mid-life. That’s a time when engaging in retrospection is common, and regrets—no matter what choices you’ve made—are inevitable. Her act of defiance at the end is an act of hope. It’s never too late to reclaim a lost part of yourself.
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?
AK: My novel Dance of Souls is available on Amazon. I have finished another novel that I’m shopping around to agents and small presses (alert: agents and editors, please feel free to contact me). And I’m putting together a collection of short fiction. EDF has been good to me, having published two pieces in the last couple of years. I’ve also had a short story, Tiny Shoes Dancing, published in The Sand Hill Review, and flash fiction in Punchnel’s: Forget Me, Forget Me Not.
AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.
AK: Thank you.
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