SmokeLong Quarterly

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“Move with confidence”: An Interview with Guest Reader SJ Sindu

Interview by Shasta Grant January 9, 2017

SJ Sindu’s chapbook I Once Met You But You Were Dead was released in December 2016 from Split Lip Press. Sara Lippmann called it “raw and timely and unforgettable.” Sindu will be giving away a copy of I Once Met You But You Were Dead to the author of the story she chooses for publication during her reading week. To send her a story, visit our submissions page.

Your hybrid nonfiction and fiction chapbook was recently published and you have a novel forthcoming. Can you talk about how you navigate between fiction and nonfiction and short form and long form? Do you have a favorite?

Version 2It’s funny. I tend to work best at either flash length or novel length with little in between. I love the snapshot story that flash allows for, but lately I’ve been really wanting to dig my toes in deep in a story and never come out. All of the pieces in the chapbook were written in the same four-year span, around the same time I was working on the novel. I used these as little breathers in between novel drafts. But I have to say, I think I’m partial to the novel form. I like the depth that a novel allows for, both as a reader and as a writer.

As far as nonfiction and fiction, I think I tended to write more nonfiction as a younger writer. Which is weird, because most people tend to want to write nonfiction as they gain more life experience. But for me, I wrote nonfiction because I was embattled–my identity and self-conception were at war with my culture and family. But as I started to make peace with that, my urge to write nonfiction gave way to a less tortured writing process and a liking for the long fiction form. Maybe I’ll return to nonfiction later on in life, and I certainly love to read nonfiction, but for now, I’m becoming ever more obsessed with fiction and the freedom it allows.

What do you think makes a good story? What could a writer do to make you keep reading? What is something that might make you stop reading?

I love stories that move with confidence. Stories where the writer is signaling to me that I’m in good hands. Confidence can go far with me. I like strong voice, distinct characters, vivid depictions of place. All the rest is secondary. Which is to say–maybe I shouldn’t say this–to me, plot is secondary. But it’s important! Plot is like the nutrition inside the pork chop. I know I just compared stories to pork chops but bear with me. The voice, the characters, description, these are flavors, aromas. These draw me into a story, so they’re primary in my first glance, but good plot and structure fill my hunger, make me keep turning the page.

I’m turned off by stories that try too hard. They’re either too on-the-nose, or they’re trying too hard to be quirky. Even though I know every story was intentionally crafted, when I’m reading I want the writer to make me forget that they’re behind the scenes, moving things around. I want to believe in a sustained, continuous dream.

Are there certain styles or topics that you’re drawn to?

I read and enjoy across the board, but I do have a special place in my heart for literary fiction that successfully incorporates surreal or fabulist elements. I also love lyric voices of all kinds–soft and meandering, crisp and clear, poetic. I’m definitely entranced by voice.

What’s your position on New Year’s resolutions? Will you be making any this year?

Ha! You know, that’s an element of American culture that I never really understood or assimilated into my life. I mean, I guess a part of me likes the poetry of a new beginning, but I think so often people just sort of make these half-heartedly. I do believe in resolutions, though, just plain and simple. So sure, for the exercise, here we go. My resolution in the next year is to be more patient, to be more loving to myself and everyone else, and to sell my next book. Oh, and I’d also like to more deeply explore my Hufflepuff side. I’m a proud Slytherin, but I’m right on the edge and I’ve neglected this other side of me for too long.

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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