Fri 13 Apr 2012
In Sarah Pinsker’s, “Broken Stones,” Every Day Fiction’s top story for March, a woman happens upon remnants of a family graveyard during a routine jog through the woods. By empathizing and bonding with the family, she widens the pathway through her own loss and grief.
Flash Fiction Chronicles interviewed Pinsker about story structure, characters, messages to readers, compatibility between songwriting and fiction-writing, and desirable features for flash fiction.
FFC: The main character’s personal tragedy isn’t exposed until the second half of “Broken Stones.” Since flash pieces are so short, writers usually position the conflict in or close to the opening paragraph, to hook the reader and avoid running out of time for story resolution.
Why did you wait so long to introduce her plight?
Pinsker: As you said, the conventional wisdom dictates jumping directly into the central conflict. Still, I wanted her act of discovery to take place within the brief window of the story, and I wanted the reader’s act of discovery to take some time, as well. I could have expanded it into a longer piece, with more of her backstory, and maybe some research into the area’s history, but I liked the rhythm, the balance, and the limited flow of information at this length.
FFC: No details are included for the mother/wife of the dead, but she’s a crucial character, ghostwritten through the narrator’s musings. Why did you choose to portray her as the only anonymous character in the story? Did you always intend her to be nameless and ageless, or did you experiment with alternatives?
Pinsker: The “Aleta” tombstone was the mother’s in the first draft, but I decided that was a little too strong a connection. I wanted all the similarities to be Althea’s projections, rather than anything as concrete as an age or a year or a name. She is able to relate and impose her own tragedy over the outlines of the Schumacher family’s because of the lack of details.
FFC: “Broken Stones” fits together like a puzzle; every character, action, and description mirrors another, and feels necessary in a rendering of life and death of nature and mankind. One message I derived from the story is that lifecycles ensure harmony in the universe. What message(s) would you like readers to glean from “Broken Stones?”
Pinsker: I love hearing other interpretations of my stories and songs! I prefer to be told what a piece meant to someone else rather than to tell them what they were supposed to get out of it. That said, I did want to speak about the baggage that everyone carries, and the stuff that gets buried so that we can make it through the day. There’s definitely a parallel between the physical burials and the mental ones. And of course I also wanted to speak about the things that people do to keep going after a tragedy, the small steps that cumulatively add up to the distance needed to function.
As a side note, it took me a few years to get this story to the place I wanted it. At the time I started it, I knew that the character was a runner, but I had never run a mile in my life. I was the kid who managed to get excused from every gym class. About a year and a half ago, I was asked to participate in a charity triathlon, so I began running. I had already written the passages about running, but I discovered that for me, running served the exact purpose I had already imagined for Althea: running is a great silencer of voices. It’s also great for unraveling knotty stories. I say all of this with the zeal of a fresh convert, in case you can’t tell.
FFC: Many writers find that music nourishes their writing—whether they listen while writing, or during off-writing time for replenishment. Since you’re also a singer and songwriter, music plays a significant role in your life. How do your processes for writing songs and writing fiction complement, or conflict with each other?
Pinsker: Sometimes it can be a conflict. I find that when I’m fully engaged in writing songs I have trouble writing fiction, and vice versa. I think both come from a similar place, but my processes are very different. I’m better at making routines with my fiction. Right now, I am desperately trying to come up with the final song for my fourth album, but I keep getting drawn into stories that want to be written, instead of sitting down with guitar and notebook. The rest of the album is finished and recorded, but every new idea I generate wants to be a story, instead of a song. I tend to wait for the muse to strike in songwriting, whereas I’m willing to bash away at a story, until it takes shape. No complaints! I’m happy to have ideas and time to get them down in whatever form.
FFC: Writers disagree on the definition of flash fiction other than the stories usually contain fewer than 1,001 words. Let’s add value judgment to the confusion: describe the features that you feel characterize a well-written, successful flash?
Pinsker: I’m drawn to flash, as a lot of people are, because my time is limited. It’s nice to get into and out of a story in a single sitting. Successful flash strips an idea to its essence. I like the economy of it. Just as in songwriting, every word has to justify its existence, has to carry the perfect weight and balance. Flash should be punchy and purposeful. It should be a cannonball into the pool: instant immersion, with more time spent drying off afterward, than it took to get wet.
Sarah Pinsker is a singer-songwriter based in Baltimore, Maryland. Her fiction has been published in Emprise Review, TaleSpin, City Paper, and other publications. She has released two solo albums: Charmed and Wingspan, and a third with her band, the Stalking Horses: This is Your Signal. All three are indie label albums, available on iTunes and most online outlets. A fourth album is due for release in 2012. Her website, www.sarahpinsker.com, is under construction and may very well be built by the time this interview is published. Meanwhile, to find out about Sarah’s new stories, new songs, and more, like her on Facebook.
Sue Ann Connaughton writes compact pieces from Salem, Massachusetts and Rockland, Maine. Her most recent works appear in The Linnet’s Wings, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Boston Literary Magazine, Nailpolish Stories, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, and Meadowland Review.