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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Editor’s Choice Week: An Interview with Christopher Allen

Interview by Shasta Grant November 6, 2017

The story from this week’s submissions will be read by a member of our editorial staff. All stories submitted November 6-13 will be read by Christopher Allen, our Managing Editor.

Of course, our readers always want to know what kind of story each editor is looking for. Are there common themes or topics that you’re drawn to? A particular writing style? What might grab your attention?

I’m drawn to voice above all. And it needs to grab me right from the beginning. I’ve said this in a recent interview at TSS Publishing, but I can’t say it enough: there’s no time for scene-setting and wheel-spinning in flash. I’m drawn to narratives that find the story in the depth of the moment rather than in a linear plot. As far as topic and situation are concerned, I have no expectations; although if the topic or situation is already obscure to most readers, the writer needs to do some work to make it familiar.

I love finding great stories for SmokeLong. As I’ve said in a couple of recent interviews, I’m looking for something that will rip me to shreds.

We both live abroad but in very different parts of the world: you’re in Europe and I’m in Southeast Asia. How do you think living abroad influences your writing? Would you be a different writer if you lived in the U.S. or another part of the world? In what ways?

Isn’t it the most incredible thing to be an expat? Yes, Southeast Asia and Europe are worlds apart. I live in Munich now, but I’ve lived in London and Dublin as well. I think about this question—how being an expat has affected me and my writing—a lot. I’d love to revise the past, to go back and be an avid reader sooner, to be more focused on words, but I wouldn’t erase my moving to Europe. I’m a bit isolated here, but there’s no reason to believe I would have been less isolated in the US. I’m an introvert, so I probably wouldn’t have joined a real-life writers’ group. My writers’ group has always been online.

If I’d stayed in the US, I might have been more influenced by TV and film. I might have become a screenwriter. I was working on a couple of screenplays when I moved to Europe. Here in Germany, I rarely watch TV and almost never go to the cinema.

Your debut collection of flash fiction, Other Household Toxins, is forthcoming with Matter Press. Congratulations! What can you tell us about this collection? Why these 48 stories?

Thank you, Shasta! I played with lots of titles, most having to do with death and bad fathers. There’s a ton and a half of death in these stories and lots of bad dads, but I hope readers will see my characters resisting cliché.

Other Household Toxins—publication date TBA—is an eclectic collection of my stories from the past seven years, from “The Orangery” (Best of Everyday Fiction 3, 2010) to “What Strangers Do” (PANK, 2017). They’re all stories I love whether or not anyone else does, so that’s why they’re there. There’s a good amount of humor in them and a fair amount of the absurd. I could have made this a collection of magic realism, but I wanted to show a range of what’s possible with flash. So in the end I wound up with a something-for-everyone collection.

I’m a bit obsessed with book covers and one of the things I like most about living in Singapore is the bookstores frequently get the American and British editions of books so I get to choose which cover I want to buy. Any chance you can give us some details about the cover for Other Household Toxins—about the process of designing the cover or maybe even a sneak peek?

I know what you mean! I bought Nuala Ní Chonchúir’s book Miss Emily in Dublin and then again in the US when I was in Nashville for Christmas. Two different covers. I didn’t get to choose, so I just bought them both.

The amazing Jessica Gawinski did the cover art for the collection. It lets the reader know that these stories are going to be full of the bizarre and fantastic but also very much focused on the home. The image is inspired by “Fred’s Massive Sorrow,” a modular story written using the techniques and urgency of flash fiction and first published in Eclectica Magazine.

Hmmm. A sneak peek. Yes, let’s do that. This is the first time I’ve shown the cover. I’m kind of nervous. Click on this LINK for a first look at Jessica Gawinski’s cover art for Other Household Toxins.

About the Interviewer

Shasta Grant  is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest and the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellowship. She has received residencies from Hedgebrook and The Kerouac Project and was selected as a 2020 Aspen Words Emerging Writer Fellow. Her work has appeared in cream city review, Epiphany, Hobart, wigleaf, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and divides her time between Singapore and Indianapolis.

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