“Every Word Works”–An Interview With Guest Reader A.A. Balaskovits

by Tara Laskowski See all Guest Readers

A.A. Balaskovits’ book Magic for Unlucky Girls was called “a wonderful, truly original work” by Station Eleven author Emily St. John Mandel. Publisher’s Weekly says, “There isn’t a single tired trope here—in fact, there are few familiar elements at all—so readers looking for something askew from any fantasy they’ve read before will want to get to know the unlucky but determined girls of Balaskovits’s stories.”

Balaskovits will send a copy of her story collection to the author of the story she selects during her reading week. Here’s more about her and what she’s looking for in our queue.

Your collection of stories Magic for Unlucky Girls is filled with all the things I love: twisted fairy tales, dark logic, brutal, honest writing, and women kicking ass. What kinds of topics/themes do you most like to read, and what would you like to see arrive in our queue this week?

I do, do adore twisted fantasy tales, but as I think about it, a lot of my favorite short works actually bend more realist. Robert Hass’ “A Story About the Body” and Bess Winter’s “Signs” are two flash pieces I think about quite often, because they are so startling in their imagery that they cut into my brain and settled there. For me, the theme or topic doesn’t matter, so long as the writing is good. And by good, I mean that every word works towards cutting into the reader and making sure they remember it. Flash is so limited by its word count, which makes it a little knife. The best pieces cut, infect and fester, no matter their theme or genre.

You are one of the editors of Cartridge Lit, an online literary publication dedicated to stories and poetry about video games. What’s been the most fun about that gig? The most challenging?

I adore video games. In a way that is almost obsessive. I grew up playing everything on the Nintendo I could get my hand on, and right now I currently have every Nintendo system ever made (except the original—it was lost in a fire), three generations of Playstations, and enough handhelds to make it seem like we’re collecting (my husband is). I have probably spent more time playing Mass Effect than I have working on my exams. I love that there is so much interaction between the player and the story in that medium, and Cartridge Lit allows the player to have a place to showcase the kind of affection, liberation, and storytelling they may have only been able to share with close friends before. It’s so exciting to see how much art comes from this medium, especially since it’s caught up in a political whirlwind right now. The main struggle, of course, is when I am unfamiliar with the game that is being written about, and then I have to do some research. But that’s actually kind of fun, too.

What’s the biggest mistake that writers make when submitting their stories for publication?

I think the biggest mistake, and one that I make, is that when you know your strengths, you focus too much on those and forget about how much every part of writing needs to come together. A lot of times I read excellent stories that have interesting conceits, but the language could be so much tighter for maximum impact. Or I read a story that has so many beautiful words, but nothing seems to happen, and at the end I could not verbalize what it was about. Sure, some pieces work without the other, but the ones that I’ve been drawn to really have a nice melding of action and language.

What are you working on now?

Like everyone else, I’m working on a novel. Much like Magic For Unlucky Girls, it’s a fantastical piece with fairy tale influences, but also, somewhat accidentally, influences from video games as well, particularly the Legend of Zelda and Mario series. I’ve always been drawn to video games where you’re essentially playing the same story over and over again, and wonder why the characters put up with it—or the programmers. Perhaps, if they were made aware of their past, repetitive lives, that they might choose a different direction. History tells us we do that in our own real lives anyway, repeating the same actions and making the same mistakes in a mad whirl, expecting some alternative result. Politically, we’re doing it right now, and there is a screaming child inside of me saying, no, no, no. So that novel is that screaming child.

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About the Reader:

A.A. Balaskovits was born in the Chicagoland area but now resides in South Carolina. She is the author of Magic for Unlucky Girls (Santa Fe Writers Project 2017). Her fiction and essays appear in Indiana Review, The Madison Review, The Southeast Review, Gargoyle, Apex Magazine, Shimmer and numerous other magazines and anthologies. She was awarded the New Writers Award from Sequestrum in 2015 and won the grand prize for the 2015 Santa Fe Writers Project Literary Awards series. She is the co-Editor in Chief of Cartridge Lit.

About the Interviewer:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.