Entries tagged with “INTERVIEWS”.
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Tue 8 Apr 2014
by Gay Degani
Caroline Hall, this year’s String-of-Ten Six First Place Winner with her story, “Snowman Suicide,” was raised by English majors during the Nintendo generation. Now a teacher-on-hiatus, she has attended ten schools and worked at seven. She is a compulsive hiker and a New Englander who says “wicked awesome” and used the same window fan until it caught fire. She writes short stories and flash fiction.
[NOTE: The story appears today at Every Day Fiction.]
Gay Degani: I’d love to know what your first reaction was to the list of words: LITTER-ENTRANCE-SAFE-SPIRITUAL -SPOTLIGHT-BOOKMARK-CATASTROPHE-RAZOR-FAULTY-ULTIMATE and the aphorism: “I prefer the errors of enthusiasm to the indifference of wisdom,” from Anatole France. How did you approach the prompt?
Caroline Hall: My immediate response was that a number of the words on the list–razor, faulty, ultimate, and catastrophe—seemed to cluster together naturally. To my mind, they grew organically from the concepts of depression and suicide. I also knew I wanted to use the word “spiritual” because I love it!
When I looked at the list, the word “razor” practically glowed. A few years ago, I had surgery for a bizarre and not-so-threatening cancer. After I was declared “fine,” I got strangely depressed. I spent a lot of time in doctors’ and therapists’ waiting rooms that year. I wrote a poem about waiting rooms and the endless string of medical appointments. In the poem, I described patients with eyes like pills and mouths like razor blades. Forty or fifty drafts later, the poem still didn’t work. But when I saw the word “razor” on the list of words for the String-of-10 competition, I knew the setting and mood of “Snowman Suicide” instantly. I was glad to get the chance to resuscitate the image and pleased that the story was much better than the original poem.
For me, writing “Snowman Suicide” was about balancing passive and active. As a patient, you spend a great deal of time passively waiting, and I wanted to capture that feeling. But I’ve also met a lot of people who fight back against their illnesses and circumstances with spunk and humor. I wanted to make sure that some of their creativity, intelligence, and strength appeared in the story.
GD: You mentioned your goals for this story included balancing passive and active, so what other elements do you keep in mind when you are working on a piece of writing? Characters you’ve touched on, what about structure and theme? What do you handle these?
CH: My successful stories usually begin with an object—in this case, a snowman. Characters start out being me and evolve as they interact with the object. They develop slowly, which makes for some embarrassing drafts. But getting to know and—sometimes— slowly fall in love with my characters is a joy. Sometimes, it surprises me which characters I fall in love with and how big an impact they have on my life. Workshops and readers are helpful for clarifying the conflict in stories, for finding spots that don’t make sense or feel true.
I studied English and am a closet Classics geek, and my tendency was—and still is—to write Latinate or Victorian-style prose. My first stories were designed to be analyzed rather than read. Finally, I realized that I could have a vital message, but that didn’t matter if readers needed a pot of coffee to survive the first paragraph.
As a result, I work hard at paring stories down to their cores. I started writing flash fiction by accident; flash fit the funny clumps of time I squirreled away for writing better than longer stories did. It was a happy accident. Forcing myself to adhere to strict word limits has made my sentences stronger and leaner.
GD: You mention “paring down.” I’m wondering what you look for when you edit your work. What are your go-to moves?
CH: I spent a few years writing terrible poetry, so my main rule is “if it sounds the way your poetry sounded, it needs to go!” I love alliteration and repetition, but I have to make sure they don’t hijack the story or become distracting. I’ll turn clauses into phrases. In early drafts, I tend to stack adjectives and details. I’ll have three or four when I need one. In the first paragraph, my snowman initially went through five different diagnoses; three was enough.
GD: As I said in my interview with Jim Harrington, what drew me to this story, was a lot of things: “The title, the first line, the humor, the surprise, its clarity. ‘Snowman Suicide,’ who wouldn’t want to read that story?” All this makes me want to read more of your work. Can you tell me where to find other stories of yours and what you are working on now?
CH: “Snowman Suicide” is my first published work. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Earlier, I mentioned that my friends from the mental health community—if you can call it that—inspire me constantly with their intelligence, wit, candor, and kindness. I am proud, grateful, and honored to know them and to have a chance to represent them in this story. I hope I’ve done them justice.
Gay Degani has published fiction on-line and in print including her short collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is founder of EDF’s Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place. She’s had three stories nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her linked-story novella is part of Pure Slush’s 2014- A Year in Stories anthology and her her serialized novel, What Came Before, is currently online at Every Day Novels.
Thu 10 Oct 2013
Posted by Jim Harrington under INTERVIEWS, Susan Tepper
by Susan Tepper
Susan Tepper: Bones Buried in the Dirt is a dark title for a book about childhood. What is behind this title?
David S. Atkinson: When I first conceived of the book, I’d been thinking of the kind of moments that occur in childhood and only get partially absorbed into the mind. Something that occurs that never entirely gets forgotten and instead pops up into active memory from time to time, over which identity gets sort of draped, in a piecemeal way defining who a person becomes. I thought of those memories as bones, partially digested bits of consciousness that still have some shape and form in the mind but are only artifact portions of the original pivotal experience. In that way, the shaping memories like that are a kind of bones buried in a kind of dirt, the brain. So really, it isn’t as dark a title as it might seem.
S.T. Could you give us a more specific example?
D.S.A. When I was around 7 or 8, an old family friend had given me a toy for Christmas. It was a toy car that you stuck a plastic gear strip into and removed to cause the car to go. However, though I’d wanted the toy, it was the off- brand version. Before I’d thought what I was saying, I said: “Oh, it’s the cheap one.” It was a reflex, but instantly I knew what I’d done. The family friend just laughed, but my parents were horrified. So was I. Everyone else forgot immediately, but I never did. Even thirty years later my brain will bring that back up to me, perhaps to shame me in some strange way, particularly in instances where there is a call for gratitude. It is this remnant floating around in my consciousness, having an odd influence on who I am as an adult.
S.T. Who we are as adults often feels like a heavy burden to most, I would expect. Do you think your particular reaction at this event shaped you going forward? Or do you think we’ve already been shaped by the time we reach our 7th birthday— the way some sociologists have suggested?
D.S.A. Certainly. I think I’ve tried to be a much more grateful person, more sensitive to what other people are going to feel based on my behavior, because I remember this so often. I think what happens in early childhood certainly has a big impact on who we are as adults, but I don’t think that process ever stops. I think childhood experiences just seem to have more magnitude in their influence because there was so little that went before it to be able to compare it to and because there isn’t as much perspective. I never bought the idea, though, that we don’t keep changing even after childhood.
S.T. Your’s is an optimistic way of looking at life. Nice. You wrote a story in this collection called Boys Chase Girls. Was it fun to write from that place of youthful innocence and desire? And did it feel in any way dangerous?
D.S.A. In the story Boys Chase Girls, the main character Peter first encounters the character Joy when he finds out she helped destroy the fort Peter built. At first he tries to catch her at school so he can get revenge, but eventually it turns into more of a game for him, where he’s just trying to make her think he’s trying to get her— in order to make her afraid. Then, when a bigger kid steps in to stop Peter, he ends up deciding to be friends with Joy instead. Really, it’s kind of a young romance sort of thing, how boys hit girls because they don’t understand what they are feeling and don’t know what to do about it. It’s simpler than an adult romantic scenario, but also more complicated at the same time because the characters really don’t understand why they are doing what they are doing.
It was a fun one to write, but it did concern me. Even though Peter (as usual) is trying his best and still usually comes out worse than the other characters, he’s not really being a nice guy in this one. Also, he is kind of mercenary in how quickly he trades in his revenge for the game, and then for a girl as a friend. Beyond that, this kind of kid mistaken aggression romance is hard to get exactly right, and this sort of thing just seems like a shallow adult parody if not done exactly right. Of course, I also worried that people might find it creepy that an adult was interested enough in child romance to write about it.
S.T. Creepy? Not at all. When a writer tackles a subject (childhood or whatever), it’s that writer’s responsibility to tell the hard truth, as he or she understands that truth. And I totally agree with you about shallow adult parody. I’ve seen that in some books and it just screams false. In your book Bones Buried in the Dirt the characters who speak on the page were to me as children. That’s what made the book interesting. It was that glimpse back into the wonderful-scary time when we wanted to do everything but had limited control over what we could actually do. I think you mastered it in this book, David.
You can see more of David’s work at http://davidsatkinsonwriting.com and http://bonesburiedinthedirt.com/
is the author of four published books. Her current titles include The Merrill Diaries
and From the Umberplatzen (Wilderness House Press, 2012) – a quirky love story set in Germany and told in linked-flash. Tepper has received nine Pushcart nominations, and one for the Pulitzer Prize for her novel What May Have Been (with Gary Percesepe) published by Cervena Barva Press in 2010. Tepper created the Monday Chat Interview series at Fictionaut, and the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in NYC. Her work appears in hundreds of print and online venues. www.susantepper.com
Sun 6 Oct 2013
Posted by Jim Harrington under INSPIRATION, INTERVIEWS, Karen Nelson, PUBLISHING, REVIEWS
by Karen Nelson
I love September because I can go all month singing Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends“. (The 9/11 Tribute video is gripping.) If you slept through any of Flash Fiction Chronicles’ great articles on the writing craft, here’s a recap – and wake up!
We had some pointed advice from Jim Harrington to help us refine our writing through Word Choice (be specific!) and using Inciting Incident and Character Arc to add dimension. Jim takes apart some sample writing to really examine the nuts and bolts of a piece, and I think you’ll find more than a few ideas for improving your work.
Ever revisit a favorite book and find it, somehow, lacking? You’re not alone. In “Writing Ruined My Reading” Sara Crysl Akhtar shares her struggles with Asimov, but finds a redeeming genre that will surprise you.
Beth Lee-Browning gets us digging into our journals and discovering our own potential with “If You Build It, They Will Come“. Her highlights are worth another look. (Go ahead, I’ve already clicked on them 4 times… )
• Savor life – live with humor, joy, and passion. Use feelings as fuel for creativity and creation.
• Make something of yourself – do something, be something, make something. Be who you are and continue to strive to become who you were meant to be. Don’t be afraid to try, don’t be afraid to fail, and don’t be afraid to succeed.
• Accept yourself – be yourself, trust yourself, be childlike, own and understand your relationships, be aware and follow your instincts, be accountable, and last but not least, be kind to yourself.
• Have faith – ask for and accept help, be teachable, life is spiritual, art is spiritual and it is healing. Follow your dreams and treat them as real.
• We commune through art – when we create from the heart and not from the ego we experience a clarity of purpose and feelings of joy.
For people who like writing, authors sure love to talk! And FFC has visited with some of the best in the business. Check out these conversations with industry professionals, and gain insight on the world of publishing…
UNCOV/RD: Susan O’Neill – author of Don’t Mean Nothing
Roxanne Gay – Tiny Hardcore Press
Sumanth Prabhaker – Madras Press
Milo James Fowler – EDF’s Top Author for August
Success for one is success for all, and FFC loves to celebrate our colleagues’ success! Our own Bonnie ZoBell burst into 2013 with her collection of stories The Whack-Job Girls (Monkey Puzzle Press).
“Respect. This is the bedrock of all the stories in Bonnie Zobell’s “Whack-Job Girls.” Her characters demand it, regardless of their situation, social standing and ethos. In fact, ZoBell’s characters come across as people who would sooner hit the reader with a hammer than be pitied.” – Rumjhum K. Biswas
Linda Simone-Wastila shares her thoughts on why Elliot Sanders’ Distance was one of the finest short stories she read this year. Take a moment as she walks you through the author’s expert use of voice, tension, detail, and theme.
Circle Straight Back by Noel Sloboda just went on my must-read list… if only for the intriguing idea of selling secrets in an online auction. Don’t miss Andree Robinson-Neal’s fascinating commentary on this unusual book.
Of course, when submitting your flash piece for publication, you want it to look its best. EveryDayFiction offers these insider tips that will get you that much closer to sharing your work.
The month wound up with a little fun, in Top 10 Reasons to Write Flash Fiction. Our staff collected their favorites, but we’re still hearing from you on your best – or craziest – reasons to write flash. Leave yours in the comment section – we’d love to hear it! And now that September has ended, get ready for a fabulous Fall at Flash Fiction Chronicles!
Karen Nelson is a writer and teacher in Southwest Missouri, specializing in educational and nonfiction works. She is a staff writer for Flash Fiction Chronicles, Curriculum Coordinator for Goldminds Publishing, author of four books and numerous stories and articles, and serves on the boards of various writing and literacy organizations. When staring at a computer screen gets to be too much, Karen wanders outside to her chickens, rabbits, and miniature horse, who are always good for gaining perspective.
Thu 29 Aug 2013
Posted by Jim Harrington under Aliza T. Greenblatt, INTERVIEWS
by Aliza Greenblatt
Ian Florida left St. Louis for the greener fields of Northern Missouri where he studied History and Philosophy at Truman State University. He still lives there in a small white house at the edge of town where city streets meet pasture and farmland with his fiancé, their two cats and a living mountain of books that seems to take up every room in the house. When not writing or reading science fiction and fantasy he manages a market research team and in his spare time pretends to be a wood worker and outdoorsman. His story The Only Gifts We Give was the top story for July at Every Day Fiction.
Aliza Greenblatt: This is your second story at EDF. How long have you been writing fiction and what made you want to tell stories? Do you primarily write flash fiction, or do you like writing stories of various lengths?
Ian Florida: I started out writing and illustrating “comic books” about a crime fighting, boy robot, when I was seven or eight years old. Ever since then I’ve had the good fortune of being surrounded by family and friends who encourage me to write and be creative. My family is full of musicians and song writers, artists and story tellers so I see it as my own contribution to a family tradition.
As far as my publishing credits go, all of my work so far has been short form, but I have just started the second round of editing on my second novel. It’s a fantasy epic set in modern day Chicago, a city sanctuary for all the Old Gods of religions past and a few present, who are quite unhappy with the state of moral decay in modern America and quite pleased with their decision to do something about it.
As for which I like better, sometimes I have so many different stories I want to write it’s easy to get sidetracked, which makes focusing on just ONE project a Herculean ordeal. But both are rewarding in their own way.
AB: Can you tell me a little about your writing process?
IF: My stories are mainly divined via consulting a Ouija board while ritually burning a lock of Ernest Hemmingway’s beard. But when the spirits slumber I fall back on a big list of characters, personalities, inventions, plots, and locations and I generally start by pulling a couple items from the menu and meshing them together. I find that both processes work best between the hours of 3:00 and 6:00 AM.
Reading is also a big part of my process, I read anything and everything. You never know where you’re going to find a great catalyst for a story that isn’t going quite right. My background is in history and that really informs my writing as old history tomes are bursting at the spine with stories and people waiting to be remixed, retold and reborn.
This particular story was a little bit outside my ordinary process. I had some recent events dredge up old memories of sitting by my little sister while she was in the ICU . She was six and I remember my parents standing over her little body, tubes and wires everywhere. This story just flowed out of those old memories.
AB: You captured the wonderment of a child and the sadness of a parent very well in this story and there were lots tough emotions, as well as a sense of beauty packed into this piece. What were some of the challenges in writing this story? What were some of your favorite bits?
IF: Knowing the difference between what’s important and what can be cut is always the hardest part for me. I tend to write too much and edit too little and so paring the story down is always my biggest challenge. For this story the challenge was trying to prevent the emotional punch being softened and slowed down with too much description and imagery. Flash fiction is especially fickle in that regard, you have so few words and every single sentence has to carry so much weight that there’s no time for needless things, no matter how much you love them and want to keep them wrapped up nice and warm in your story.
My favorite part about writing this story is being able to come back to it two months after I’ve put it down, rereading it, and still having it invoke the emotions I wanted it to invoke. I knew I found a story that was important to me when I could read it six, seven, eight times and still have it punch me in the gut.
AB: The narrator’s identity was not revealed right away to the reader. I initially thought that this was a husband-wife relationship at first, but realized my mistake as the story progressed. Why did you choose to tell this story in second person?
IF: I tried writing the story in first person before anything else, but it didn’t come off sounding very genuine. I could tell right off it needed to change. Second person gave it the power and flow I was aiming for, it turned it almost into a speech or a soliloquy.
Sometimes when you’re confronted with challenges that seem impossible, that are just too hard, that wear you down, mind, body, and soul you have to take a deep breath and remind yourself what you’re doing and why. You take a look at the people you love and remember how important they are to you and that no matter what happens you’ll do anything you can to make their lives just a little bit easier, and then you get back down to work. This story was that man’s second wind.
AB: The power of memories and imagination is a main theme in the story. But your narrator implies that experience comes at the price of hope, so instead he tells his daughter stories. Why did he pick planets for the basis of his stories verses traditional stories like fairytales? Why were they things neither of them could reach?
IF: I don’t think he believes in fairy tales anymore and he really needs to tell a story that he and his daughter can both believe in. The story is just as much for the teller as for the listener, maybe more so. Also, I don’t think he tells her fairy tales because happily or unhappily those kinds of stories end and he doesn’t want his story to end yet. He’s too afraid of how it might turn out. The worlds up there are fresh canvas, he can build a story from scratch, he can decide when, how and if it ends.
AB: What other projects are you working on now? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?
IF: Aside from cleaning up my second novel I’m working on a children’s book about a long haired wild child and his attempt to stop a sun sized, world eating, monster. Sad to say my illustration hasn’t really progressed too far past that eight year old self but luckily I have a very talented friend that have been gracious enough to put up with me for several projects. You can find links to my published work as well as a whole host of unpublished material at my website www.ianflorida.com
AB: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.
IF: Thank you for taking the time to interview me and big thanks to all the staff and readers at Every Day Fiction!
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 @AtGreen
Thu 1 Aug 2013
Posted by Jim Harrington under INTERVIEWS, Susan Tepper
by Susan Tepper
In this new Interview Series, Susan Tepper talks with authors about their books and lives, hopes and dreams.
Alex M. Pruteanu emigrated to the United States from Romania in 1980. He has worked as a journalist, a television news director, freelance writer, and editor. He is the author of novella “Short Lean Cuts” (Amazon Publishing) and “Gears: A Collection” (Independent Talent Group, Inc.).
His writing has appeared in NY Arts Magazine, Guernica, PANK, Connotation Press, FRIGG, The Atticus Review, Thrush Poetry Journal, and many others. His short story “The Barber” has been nominated for a 2013 Micro Award by A-Minor Magazine. Alex lives with his family near Raleigh, North Carolina.
Susan Tepper: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Alex Pruteanu: Let’s start with the literal: like many “normal” people, people who I consider the true heroes in our celebrity-obsessed, narcissistic culture, the beckoning, ever-present call of The Machine is what makes me move my arse. I am usually up a little before 5 a.m. in order to properly caffeine-ate myself, so that I may drag my bag of atrophying bones into the office for my day job and usual duties. Another half a pot of coffee later, and I’m able to function like a proper cog, standing at perpetual attention, ready to be eviscerated by the blades of The Machine; saluting, even. I’ve been conditioned for that by 30 years of work.
But you are looking for another kind of answer, I am sure. Beethoven gets me out of bed in the morning…as well as John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Jackson Pollock’s art, Bukowski’s and Ezra Pound’s poetry, Constantin Brancusi’s sculptures, Stanley Kubrick’s films, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, Makine, Dostoyevsky…I think you see the pattern here. At times, my own work has roused me out of bed, although I have to say that I approach my writing, or rather the start of the process of my writing, with much trepidation and sometimes outright opposition.
Writing well for me has never come easy; I’ve always started writing a project kicking and screaming, although once immersed in the piece, things go much smoother and the revolt dies down. I am by no means a procrastinator when it comes to writing, it’s just a difficult process to begin. I often feel I am ill-prepared for the writing session, despite the sometimes months of planning; I have doubts as to what kind of output I’ll have (not the quality, but the quantity) at the end of the writing session; I am often impatient with the amount of time it takes me to mold and shape something good and dynamic— mainly because my writing time is very limited.
I have never had the luxury of writing fiction as a full-time profession. All the writing I have ever done has been what I call “guerrilla writing.” It has always been composed on metro trains, going in to work, in bathrooms, on lunch breaks, in the early mornings before the household gets up, late at night after the household falls asleep, in showers, during long car trips, waiting in lines, or during long flights. I think that, if given the chance to write on a full-time basis, I would most likely approach the process with verve and excitement every morning. It would certainly be that thing that gets me out of bed, knowing I don’t have to show up for a daily war sitting behind some desk in a lousy office with no windows and a bad HVAC system that recycles nasty, stagnant air.
The prospect of writing fiction for a living does indeed drive me. It’s my version of winning the lottery. There is nothing more I would like to do than make a decent…even modest living writing books. I realize the odds are long, but so are they for the Powerball, and plenty of people fall asleep to dreams of busting that motherfucker out and retiring from the daily shit grind of life. In that respect, my dream is not very different.
I’ve always started writing a project kicking and screaming, although once immersed in the piece, things go much smoother and the revolt dies down.
ST: So you are The Machine? Or, deus ex machina?
AP: Neither. The Machine, as I refer to it, is the system we’ve devised for ourselves in order to keep us occupied and dreaming of freedom. It’s a strange circular way of thought, isn’t it? That which anchors us, also creates and aids in our dreams of escaping from it. The Machine is work in all its glorious, eviscerating, enslaving incarnations— whether an actual instrument of disseminating labor (like a corporation), or some la-la dreamworld put together by savage geniuses (banking/finance system).
I am by no means a stellar writer, but I will tell you that I certainly don’t paint myself…rather, write myself into corners, so there’s no use for me to appeal to deus ex machina. I’m with my good man Horace who, as you know, instructs poets to never resort to a god from the machine to resolve their plots. Or, as I like to think in more modern parlance: you better figure out this situation, dear sir, ’cause ain’t no god gonna help you step out of the massive pool of shit you’ve managed to fill up all on your own.
ST: GEARS, as a collection, operates as I believe you intended: by propelling the structure and infrastructure forward, gear by gear, seamlessly. Was this book painful to write?
AP: Originally I was very much against putting together a collection of all my short stories and flash fiction. It was something I mistakenly thought would be a “cop out” of sorts. Something like “filler” until I wrote the “proper novel” whatever the hell that may mean.
GEARS is a massive omnibus of 70 stories. It’s the culmination of nearly 7 years of writing and 2 years of publishing. I began to change my mind about the importance of a collection when I realized that there was a whole lot of logic and a common direction in which my short fiction writing was headed, and by collecting it all under one roof, there was a theme that was being explored: that of movement, both physical and metaphorical. I thought that was an important subject to be explored, coming from an immigrant writer. The idea of movement (being displaced, uprooted, exile, and dissidence) holds much gravity and import in immigrant communities; it’s a traumatic experience leaving all that you know behind, often times for good, and in some way or another— whether on the surface or buried beneath the lines— that experience is ever-present in almost all of my stories.
To answer your question directly, none of the stories in GEARS was painful to write, despite some of the subjects and despite drawing on certain personal experiences to explore those subjects. But neither were they easy. Strike that, that isn’t entirely true. Some came quite easily…strangely enough, the stories that probably have the most buried underneath the surface were the ones that I wrote quickly and with very few edits.
There are a couple of pieces that I think are quite funny, but there’s always that weird tension just sort of hanging there, lurking in the background…the possibility of everything going wrong all of a sudden and having some massive hunk of shit hit the fan. A good example that comes to mind is the short piece “My Agent,” as well as the longer “Man Goes Again.” They’re both quite funny stories, but there’s also a flammable element there; a component that can at any time ignite. I like that in stories or novels. I like to write situations that create instability and put both the characters and the reader in a state of disequilibrium. Writing, for me, is never painful, but it’s always difficult.
ST: There are many stories in GEARS that I could focus on, but let’s talk about one micro in particular titled A Well-Trained Horse Can Sometimes Say I Love You. It was extremely difficult reading (for me), yet I was mesmerized by the content and construct. I would describe this piece as spare brilliance. Is the immigrant experience crucial to the writing of this story?
AP: Thank you for your kind words. This is one of my favourite pieces, as well. It’s so short and has so much more to it, but we’re only allowed to see literally a minute into this particular scene or situation. It was originally and appropriately published in “Subtle Fiction.”
I drew on some of my experiences having lived as a young boy in my grandfather’s and grandmother’s village house in Romania for this particular piece. I witnessed twice in a couple of years the ritualistic and necessary slaughter of the pig for Christmas feast (as well as many other subsequent meals, naturally), and the slaughter of scores and scores of chickens, as well as a few rabbits for winter meals, stews, etc. There is brutality in the slaughtering of animals, even if it’s for pure necessity like it was for my grandparents, and there’s a permeating air of that brutality in this story.
We are catching these particular men in a weird, disorienting situation: they are about to slaughter a fallen animal; we don’t know what happened just before we arrived at this scene; we don’t know if this situation is happening within the context of a battle or war, a military exercise, or what. We don’t know if the horse was initially wounded…we come to this scene at the point at which the animal had been literally and physically taken down by the group of men and is about to be slaughtered with a fucking STRAIGHT RAZOR. The slicing of the horse’s eye is weird and brutal; it introduces that disequilibrium I spoke about. The reader is left to fend for herself, to figure out what in hell is happening. This scene is so bizarre and so metaphorical, that— at the risk of sounding like a maniac— it makes me laugh when I read it. But maybe my laughter is due to nervousness. The tension in this micro piece is off the charts. As a reader, I kind of want to be part of this…I want to know more of this, but I kind of also want to leave this world. Let these men do whatever they plan on doing, and get the hell out of their way.
I have to say here that the eye-slashing detail is my humble homage to Luis Buñuel’s and Salvador Dali’s film “Un Chien Andalou.” It’s one of my all time favourite works of surrealism, and ever since I first saw it in film school at age 19, I’ve been haunted by the famous scene. The film is cut so that it appears a woman’s eye is slashed. In reality, Buñuel used a dead cow’s eye for the gruesome shot. It’s brilliant; it’s surrealist cinema at its best. This was my humble attempt to recreate it in writing.
ST: In “your movie,” how do you picture your life ten years from now?
AP: A wide shot of a large, nearly empty room; high ceiling, stucco walls, Mexican tile floor. A man in his mid-50s is sitting at a simple, wooden table, working on an old Underwood. Next to that there is a closed laptop. Beyond the man, outside of the large window, we see an olive grove basking in the golden sun. From offscreen, a female voice: “There’s Bulgarian feta, black olives, and fresh bread. And Gillian has brought a gallon of red wine. Come eat with us.”
Susan Tepper is the author of four published books. Her current title From the Umberplatzen (Wilderness House Press, 2012) is a quirky love story set in Germany and told in linked-flash. Tepper has received nine Pushcart nominations, and one for the Pulitzer Prize for her novel What May Have Been (with Gary Percesepe) published by Cervena Barva Press in 2010. Tepper created the Monday Chat Interview series at Fictionaut, and the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in NYC. Her work appears in hundreds of print and online venues. www.susantepper.com