One of the things I like a lot about Ghost Box Evolution, in Cadillac, Michigan is that it feels very evocative of Michigan’s upper lower peninsula to me. Sometimes when driving up there, I’ve thought while looking around that the world could have already ended and it would all still be the same. Am I just reading too much into your title? How much of that Interlochen, Traverse City, Cadillac area do you think influenced your writing?
You know, I just read Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, and beneath the post-epidemic that drives the story, the troupe of traveling performers move through what had once been Michigan, encountering pockets of twisted communities and open land. I had the same thought. What a great state to set that kind of tale. Separate but connected. Driving north toward Interlochen for the summers I taught there, I used to say the sky felt closer somehow, lower and just out of reach. I don’t have a childhood connection to that northwestern corner of Michigan, but compared to all the places I’ve lived (Maryland, Charlottesville, VA, Chicago, the New Hampshire seacoast, and now Nashville), that quadrant of Michigan with its sand dunes and lakes and rivers and winter whiteness and right-there-sky was absolutely evocative for me.
This chapbook is populated with different voices–even when some of the stories go into indirect discourse, the characters’ voices are crisp against each other. What advice would you give to a writer learning how to create different voices?
Read plays. The more I write fiction, the more I go back to my theatre beginnings. Read plays. What was the last play you read, held it in your hands and actually turned the pages? For so many of us reading plays ends in college and becomes solely a theatre world activity. But read plays. Voices unadorned lifted out in full relief. Read them out loud with your friends in your living room. Read new plays written right now. A few of my current favorites: The Nether by Jennifer Haley, Disgraced by Ayad Akhtar, anything by Annie Baker, Sarah Ruhl, Will Eno, or dive into a Humana Festival annual collection. I was once told that the sound of dialogue is where rhythm meets breath.
Why do you write flash fiction?
Ha. Great question. Let’s see. I’m drawn to flash fiction because it offers a home to five things I love: image, sound, form, tone, and the final line. It’s my fiction writer’s poetry. I love it because revising a piece of flash fiction gives me a thrill. Creating precision from a wash of an idea is like decluttering my home. I like to carve the piece out from the page, cutting, and cutting away. Each piece–each paragraph–becomes a tiny project. Almost three-dimensional. I have zero experience with this to know for sure, but I think of it like watchmaking.
I love the form of “Paper/Boy.” I thought using the strikethrough made it so clear how the character was at east versus how she presented herself to a potential love interest. How did you decide on using that technique?
Oh, I’m so glad you connected to that one. The piece started as a simple letter, but then I got to thinking about our age of carefully curated texts and emails, how so much goes unsaid. I considered blacking out text entirely, so it looked more like an erasure poem. But then I thought that what’s so important to capture in this particular character (and in a lot of the young characters throughout the chapbook) is the tension between the thought vs. what she allows herself to say. So we have to see both, and we have to know how little gets past the inner gatekeeper.
How did you decide the order for Ghost Box?
The ordering process, for me, can easily become a plot of quicksand. I had a general sense of the order before I submitted the chapbook, and there were few loose notions I had about what I did or didn’t want. For example, I didn’t want a precise chronological aging of the characters, I didn’t want a identifiable trajectory of any sort. I thought about the darkest stories (“Gun Moll”, “What Happened on Wednesdays”) living more toward the middle, not to bury them but to keep them from dictating tone or ringing out as the final note. Whereas “He Showed Us a Road” was always the ending story for me because that final image is something that felt important to me for as an ending chord, characters in motion but no destination in view. But the order changed, and Rose Metal Press made some excellent suggestions (in particular opening the collection with “Bless This Home”). I’m always open to an order conversations and reworkings because what might seem an obvious order to the author is not necessarily the most dynamic order for the reader.
Are there any flash stories (or stories in general) that you’ve read multiple times? Which ones? Why?
“Bread” by Sandra Cisneros gets me every time. It appears in so many textbooks and classes for good reason. The story lives in all that’s not said. I’m obsessed with Amy Hempel’s “Beach Town” because it sneaks up on you–an ending that whips you back around to the start with new eyes. “Alma” by Junot Diaz for its grit, for its ability to make me squirm, I hate that I love it, and then again, that final line. And new favorites are just as vital. Recently, I’ve been thinking about musical variations on a theme, replaying a moment in time like this lovely piece over at The Offing. But it’s worth noting the impressive outlets for flash that have emerged over the years. If I visit SmokeLong, Literary Orphans, NANO Fiction, decomP, The Collagist, and so many others, on any given day, I can guarantee that I’ll smack face-first into something electric.