Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Brooke Fossey

by Christopher Allen Read the Story December 17, 2018

Your story “The Great Abide” is about two sisters waiting for their father to come back from a hunting trip. I love the mystery here of the absent father. I know the reader should be left to wonder what has happened to him, but while I have you here, Brooke, what’s happened to the father?

In my mind, the father’s story splintered a few different directions—eaten, starved, beaten—but no matter what, he died. However, not before he instilled in these two little girls a very specific view: the world is out to get you.

While this story is very much about the absence of the father, there is a greater and subtler absence in the story. The mother. She’s never mentioned. Is this intentional?

When I first wrote the story, the grave belonged to the mother and she had a few callbacks. But during revision, she lost her space in the piece all-together. I think by that point the story had become more philosophical. I needed one authority with one singular message, and the first draft dictated that it’d be good ol’ dad. As for mom, she lives somewhere in the prequel…or maybe the epilogue.

The father tells Ginger and Cassidy that they live on an island surrounded by shark-infested waters. Is this lie a form of protection from an evil world or imprisonment? Or both? Or neither? The physical world you create for these two characters is memorable.

Both. This lie produces fear, and fear’s a funny thing. We’ve all been told shark stories—by our parents, teachers, friends, even ourselves—and mostly they keep us safe and comfortable. But sometimes they keep us from the kind of uncomfortable risk that can ultimately save us. The question these girls have to ask (and maybe we all should ask when looking into the great unknown) is this: are the sharks real? And how far out are we willing to venture—professionally, emotionally, physically—to find out for ourselves?

Ginger and Cassidy are survivors (at least I want to believe they survive). If you were to write their lives 20 years later, where would we find them?

Do they survive? I’ve waffled, depending on the day. One thing is for sure: if they’re going to make it, they have to do it together. Cassidy is full of mischief and imagination. Ginger is full of obedience and realism. They save each other in different ways. So when I’m having a good day, that’s what happens, and together they go on to live long and happy lives. On a bad day, when the world is being a hard and ruthless place, Cassidy hits the road and dies trying, while Ginger stays and dies waiting.

What are your literary influences?

So many. I had a very late start in the writing world, so my education has been a product of happenstance. I picked up INFINITE JEST because it was big and looked like a challenge, not because I’d ever heard of David Foster Wallace before. (Yes, I lived under a rock.) Other happy accidents: Bryce Courtenay, John Fante, Dave Eggers, Jose Saramago. One of the first “writing” books I ever bought was by Anne Lamott. These are the authors I read and loved without realizing what they were doing to me. Nowadays, I’m not so selfless about it. I bleed amazing authors dry. (On the night stand currently: Rebecca Makkai’s GREAT BELIEVERS.)

You’re the current president of the DFW Writers’ Workshop. Could you tell us a little about this organization?

It’s only the greatest thing in the world. DFW Writers’ Workshop (www.dfwwritersworkshop.org) is a 40-year-old nonprofit that helps writers improve their craft. It hosts weekly read-and-critique sessions that are multi-genre, which is super helpful. You can sit in a room and hear children’s, sci-fi, memoir, literary, and romance all in one night. I think if you only read and listen to your own kind, your work runs the risk of getting corralled. Everyone starts playing a single note.

DFW Writers’ Workshop also hosts the largest multi-genre writing conference in the state of Texas (www.dfwcon.org). I’m biased, but I think it’s the second greatest thing in the world.

About the Author:

Brooke Fossey is a native Texan and the current president of DFW Writers’ Workshop. Her debut novel is forthcoming in 2020 from Penguin/Berkley (US), and Piper/Pendo (DE).  

About the Interviewer:

Christopher Allen is a translator, freelance editor and the author of the flash fiction collection Other Household Toxins (Matter Press). Allen’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Best Small Fictions 2019[PANK], Indiana Review, Split Lip Magazine, Longleaf Review and others. He is the co-editor of SmokeLong Quarterly.