Overall, your story “Monarchs” makes me think about the lack of choice people have, or feel they have, when they’re put in a really bad, kill-or-be-killed world. Was that the moral you were going for?
No. This isn’t a parable. For me, it’s a love story.
What was the attraction of setting a love story in such a ghastly, kill-or-be-killed world? Was it something about the unexpectedness of finding love in a (literal) vehicle of death?
I didn’t set out to write a love story. I set out to write a story about a man running over people. After the first paragraph, it became a love story because a story about a man running over people is about as interesting to me as a story about two dogs fucking.
I really liked the juxtaposition of the macabre elements of your story with some normal, even delicate, details, like the red nail polish on trainee’s toenails and that she sits with her feet hanging out the windows. That description made me feel like they were on their way to the beach. Did those details come to you right from the start, when you first pictured the trainee, or were they added in a later draft?
Yes, those details came when I initially wrote those sentences. The trainee had to be flippantly sexy versus the story’s ghastly world so as to catch the narrator’s eye and the reader’s attention.
Some of the conversations between the trainee and the narrator seem to be non-sequiturs, like when the narrator asks whether naming the people they have to kill would make the murders harder and she answers, “We have big tires. This is a jeep.” Am I reading their conversation correctly? What did you hope to achieve with their dialogue?
You’re reading it correctly. Characters shouldn’t listen to each other too much. When they do listen, they should mishear and misunderstand. It’s just dreadful to read a story in which characters always understand each other. Better yet, characters should often lie and suspect lies. That kind of paranoid menace really drives dialogue. I don’t understand all these trustworthy characters in fiction. The tricky part is to do all that with clarity.
Because of that physical, fluttery feeling a man gets from a woman touching his knee—that old idiom about “butterflies in one’s stomach.” When the trainee puts her hand on the narrator’s leg, he gets that feeling. I turned the metaphor actual. The epigraph should point to the rest.
You don’t hear much about the Ohio literary scene, but from your Instagram feed, it seems like you’re going to a lot of events.
I’m living and teaching in Akron while finishing the final year of my creative writing MFA with the NEOMFA (Northeast Ohio Master of Fine Arts). Northeast Ohio has a stellar literary scene. In Akron, there’s the Big Big Mess Reading Series. A brief drive north in Cleveland, there’s Brews+Prose and the CSU Poetry Center’s Lighthouse Reading Series, among others. There’s always stuff going on in Youngstown and Kent, too. It seems like I’m attending readings nearly every week. Yes, northeast Ohio has a wonderful literary scene.