“Ride the beat”: An Interview With Guest Reader Ron A. Austin

by Shasta Grant See all Guest Readers

Your collection of linked stories, Avery Colt Is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar, won the 2017 Nilsen Prize and will be published this fall. Congratulations! Can you tell us a little bit about the collection and the process of writing a linked collection?

Thanks for the congrats! It’s strange to say, but the process of actually moving forward with book publication is pretty surreal. I feel like the dog who finally caught the car and has no idea what to do next—besides attempting to get halfway decent at summaries—so here goes: Avery Colt Is A Snake, A Thief, A Liar is an episodic narrative following Avery Colt as he struggles to survive the economic downturn in early ‘90s North St. Louis. From a technical standpoint, I like to tell folks this is my attempt at American realism, charged with oral story-telling traditions, remixed with low-key post modernism—or something like that. I mean, I’m not saying I was successful in this synthesis, but it was hella fun trying. The hardest part in writing the collection came toward the end when I needed those final stories to both stand on their own, but also connect to larger narrative arcs. To meet this challenge, I started studying the way poetry collections and concept albums are structured to coalesce and deliver maximum emotional impact. With this theory as a guide, I found that, in an earlier draft of the 12 story collection, the most effective ending actual came in the ninth story. After some cutting, splicing, polishing, and rearranging, I surprised myself with how well the stories began working together. Now in subsequent readings and editing sessions, the book functions independently of my hand, has grown beyond my will, greets me with a new spirit both familiar and all its own.

What is one thing that you think is essential to good flash fiction?

Urgency.

Who are some of your favorite writers? Are there particular books you find yourself returning to again and again?

This is a tough one, but I think I can swing it. In recent years, I find myself regularly enthralled by “When My Brother Was an Aztec” by Natalie Diaz, “Stars of the New Curfew,” by Ben Okri, “Delicate Edible Birds,” by Lauren Groff, “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves,” by Karen Russell, and “Song of Solomon,” by Toni Morrison. Special shout outs go to William Kennedy, Jorge Luis Borges, Richard Wright, and Mo Yan, who, I like to imagine that if he were a rapper signed to 88rising, his stage name would be “Mo Yams.”

What kind of story would you love to see in your queue this week?

In my time serving as a fiction editor, I’ve never had the privilege of choosing works for publication solely based on my aesthetics. I’m grateful for this opportunity—while at the same time—consolidating my tastes in a few words is a challenge. I can only say I’m looking for club bangers, deep cuts, and quiet storms; slow jams concerned with how sensuality reconciles the abstract; syntax texturized, high-glossed, faded; narratives that ride the beat, invade brain waves, live life in electric afterimage. I’m looking for lyric made poltergeist, tongues turned tectonic, fever dream fluctuations, lungs filled with comet fall, bronchitis, nostalgic distortion. I’m looking for what called you out/what you’ve called out, what you cleaved from bone/what cleaved you from bone, what you’ve wrung out/what wrung you out—I mean, I’m just looking for good-ass, intellectually-stimulating, emotionally relevant stories built with the careful application of technique. I’m looking for work that makes you feel seen. But if some of that other stuff was in there too, that’d be tight.

About the Reader:

Ron A. Austin holds an MFA from the University of Missouri–St. Louis and is a 2016 Regional Arts Commission Fellow. Avery Colt Is a Snake, a Thief, a Liar, his first collection of linked stories, won the 2017 Nilsen Prize. Austin’s short stories have been placed or are forthcoming in Pleiades, Story Quarterly, Ninth Letter, Black Warrior Review and other journals. As co-director of the River Styx Reading Series he works to share local and national literary talent. He, his partner Jennie, and son Elijah live in St. Louis with a whippet named Carmen.

About the Interviewer:

Shasta Grant is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She was the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellow and she won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, matchbook, MonkeyBicyclewigleaf, and elsewhere.