“Compressed on page, expanding ever after in a reader’s mind”: An Interview with Kara Oakleaf

by Megan Giddings See all Guest Readers

The writer of the story Kara picks this week will received a signed copy of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.  Kara picked this book because it’s one of her favorite books about the act of writing.

What’s the last story or book you loved? What do you think took it from something you liked or admired to a piece of work you loved?

I loved Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and have been telling everyone within earshot to read it. It follows a traveling theatre troupe that performs Shakespeare for small settlements after a catastrophic flu has wiped out most of the population, but also moves back in time to before the pandemic. There were so many things I admired. The language was gorgeous, the characters were unexpected and authentic and flawed and human, and the overall structure of the novel was so well done – several narrative strands that followed different characters and moved through time between before and the after the flu. I don’t know how she did it, but the world she created in this book was so real that I had trouble reading anything else for the next two weeks after I finished it. I kept thinking, “why am I not still reading Station Eleven? Where are Jeevan and Kirsten and Arthur and Miranda?” Seriously, if you haven’t read it – you absolutely must.

You have what sounds like an awesome job, Festival Manager for Fall for the Book. Tell us about how the festival selects writers to read and participate in its different events.

Working with Fall for the Book is definitely exciting, especially at this time of year. There are always so many writers I look forward to meeting. We find authors in lots of different ways – we work with a programming committee made up of librarians, school representatives, and community members. We work with faculty at GMU to identify books that they’ll be teaching and try to bring those authors as part of the festival so students have a chance to meet the writers they’re studying. We also get recommendations from publishers and editors. And a lot of authors come to us themselves. It’s always exciting when we get a really great book from an author we didn’t know about before, and get to include them as part of the festival.

What’s a recent article that you either thought felt like fiction or thought could be turned into an excellent short story?

I have been obsessing over Kathryn Schulz’s recent article in the New Yorker about the Cascadia subduction zone and the potential for a massive earthquake and tsunami to hit the Seattle area. After it came out, there was some debate about how likely the worst-case scenario described was, but it seemed like most people are in agreement about a major earthquake being a real risk in that area. In any case, the article well written enough to scare me, and I think this kind of story makes for good fiction as well – it’s a reminder of how small we are and how everything we’ve built is so fragile compared to these big forces of nature. Those kinds of stories really get to me.

Lately, it seems there are many different definitions for flash fiction out there. For some people it’s just a well-written story 1,000 words or less for some people it needs to be a fragment of a moment or a strong character piece. I’m not going to make you define it. But what are 10 words (they don’t have to form a sentence) that you associate with flash fiction?

Compressed on page, expanding ever after in a reader’s mind.


About the Reader:

Kara Oakleaf's work has appeared in Monkeybicycle, Tahoma Literary Review, Nimrod, and the Washington Independent Review of Books. She is a graduate of the M.F.A. program at George Mason University, where she now manages the Fall for the Book literary festival.

About the Interviewer:

Megan Giddings was a former executive editor at SmokeLong Quarterly  and a winner of the Kathy Fish Fellowship. Her chapbooks, Arcade Seventeen (TAR) and The Most Dangerous Game (The Lettered Streets Press) will be released Fall 2016.  She has been anthologized in Best of the Net 2014 and in Best Small Fictions 2016.  Her stories are forthcoming or have been recently published in Arts & Letters, Passages North, The Offing, Pleiades, and Black Warrior Review. You can learn more about her at www.megangiddings.com.