Smoking With Ann Walters

Read the Story March 15, 2007
story art

How can “yarn” refer both to knitting and a story? It seems impossible.

Well, I don’t usually use puns in my story titles, but in this case it seemed to work so well I couldn’t resist. There is, of course, the focus on yarn and knitting in the story, and there’s also the sense that this is a tall tale, the kind of story in which characters are bigger than life, where surreal events serve as metaphors for reality. Hopefully the story is entertaining, as well, because a good yarn is nothing if not delightful to the reader.

To be honest, I initially chose Moira for the musical sound of the name and because it is unusual. But it doesn’t hurt that in Greek mythology, Moira is the personification of fate, and that’s what this story is all about—one woman confronting her fate. In the end, Moira uses a pair of scissors to escape her yarn-covered destiny, much like the third Fate, Atropos, snips the thread of life.

“Yarn begins to fall like a plague of promises.” Wow. What role does poetics play in this flash—and your writing?

For me, poetry and flash are part of the same continuum; the line between them is very thin or nonexistent. I love the challenge of writing something full in a short space, of attending to each word and its impact. Using poetics is also vital for a story like this because it allows the imagination to open up and accept all sorts of strange things that are impossible to pull off in a more literal form of fiction.

“The vision is surprisingly devoid of wool.” The metaphoric power of this piece is quite remarkable. Talk about its expansive meaning, if you would, and how this “vision” came to you.

Oddly enough, this story came out of a literal surfeit of knitting. I was participating in The Knitting Olympics and had set my own goal of knitting two children’s sweaters and two doll sweaters in sixteen days. That’s a lot of knitting. When I wasn’t knitting, I was thinking about knitting, dreaming about knitting, and writing about knitting. At some point I began to wonder what life without knitting would be like, and as Moira confronted her own overload of wool, I realized that it wasn’t really about the knitting, it was about how we define ourselves and become trapped in those self-definitions. Do we accept the fate we’ve been given (or have made), or can we break free and re-define ourselves, re-make our fate?

At the recent AWP conference, a number of writers talked about their old flames, books that have influenced them during a formative time in their lives—and ones they return to for lessons in writing and, of course, life. Discuss your old flame, both what it meant to you then and what it means to you now.

There are actually two ‘old flames’ that I keep coming back to time and again. The first is The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J. R.R. Tolkien. I re-read these books every year because to me they embody what literature is all about: great writing and great storytelling. Plenty of writers can turn a beautiful phrase but have nothing much to say, while others can envision a gripping story but tell it in clumsy, mundane language. Tolkien’s writing is complex but clear and he has an amazing ability to draw the reader into his world, keep us invested in his characters, and move the story forward at every turn. I also return often to the work of Anton Chekhov. His short stories are lessons not only in writing, but in life. No one else is as incisive or observant; reading Chekhov allows me to experience a very different time and place while also leaving me much more attentive to the world around me. The work of these authors is transformative; it has the power to change readers’ lives. I think understanding that power is invaluable for both writing and life.

About the Author:

Ann Walters lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two beautiful daughters. Her fiction has appeared in Quintessence and Gator Springs Gazette.