“The rawness of the words”: An Interview with Guest Reader James Claffey

by Shasta Grant See all Guest Readers
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James Claffey will be giving away a copy of his debut novel, The Heart Crossways (Thrice Publishing) to the writer of the story he selects for publication!

You live on an avocado ranch in California. Please tell us more about this! Do you have avocado toast for breakfast every morning?

Our house is surrounded by avocado trees, and in particular four old Macarthur trees that give us welcome shade, and every other year a crop of gigantic fruit. Most of the trees on the property are Hass, which is the variety you see in the local supermarkets and fruit stands, but we’ve also got some heirloom varieties like Bacon and Nabal. Probably the best part of living in nature is the wildlife we see and hear. As I write this the great horned owls are hoo-hooing in the nearby trees, and later the barn owls will shriek as they hunt their prey. I’m a huge fan of birds of prey, so I’m in heaven. My wife’s family have been farming in these parts since the 1860s, so are considered locals around here!

We’re both expats (you’re from Ireland and live in the U.S.; I’m from the U.S. and live in Singapore) and the thing I always want to ask expat writers about is how living in a foreign country influences your writing. Can you talk about this a little? For me, I rarely write about Singapore but I’m a bit obsessed with writing stories set in fictional versions of my hometown.  

Ireland for me is Thomas’ “force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” My writing is suffused  by Ireland and it’s only when I consciously write about specific parts of the US that I move away from the rhythms and intonations of my homeland. I’m drawn to places like New Mexico and Louisiana with their rich traditions and deep-rooted heritages, and people who’ve lived in those places for many generations. I find the red earth and swampland infusing my writing, captivating my thinking, and when I write about somewhere other than Ireland it’s about those places. Nevertheless, my marrow is Irish and it is when I tap into that material sitting at my desk looking out at the burnt foothills after the Thomas fire and subsequent mud and debris flows that I find the richest material and bring my authentic self to the page.

What do you love about flash fiction?

The immediacy of creating something from nothing, or something unrehearsed. With flash fiction the unbridled flow of words opens up so many possibilities, so many opportunities to play with language and events, without the overpowering presence of a greater narrative to cleave to in a sense. Flash is first flush writing that contains something valuable, or beautiful in that initial brain dump onto the page. I like that the editing is a form of sculpting, of fine-tuning the sentences until that shape emerges from the rawness of the words. Also, for me as a busy high school English teacher it’s something I can create a first draft of in a short window of time. It’s also something I bring into the classroom to energize the students and get them excited about short fiction. Ultimately, flash fiction is the writing that remains when the rainstorm passes and the sparks of water on the ground shimmer in the sun’s rays.

What kind of story would you love to see in the queue this week? Are there certain themes or styles you’re drawn to?

I’d love to see something bewildering. Something obtuse and perhaps fragmentary. I’ve been re-reading Amber Sparks’ May We Shed These Human Bodies, and I’d love to see something along the structural lines of “the chemistry of objects,” or “you will be the living equation.” Simply put, I want to be surprised, for my mouth to form the words, “Holy *&%^ that’s amazing.”


About the Reader:

Irishman, James Claffey, lives on an avocado ranch in Carpinteria, CA. His work appears in the W.W. Norton Anthologies, Flash Fiction International and New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction, and in Queen's Ferry Press's anthology, Best Small Fictions of 2015. He was a finalist in the Best Small Fictions of 2016, and a semi-finalist in 2017. His debut novel, The Heart Crossways recently came out from Thrice Publishing. His collection of short stories, Blood a Cold Blue, from Press 53. New writing and reviews at The Irish Times, Connotation Press,  Blue Fifth Review,  Flash Frontier,  (b)OINK Zine,  Smokelong Quarterly,  Best Small FictionsFlash Fiction International Anthology.

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.