The first thing that struck me in “Yellow Submarine” was the we narrator. I’m always intrigued by a collective voice detailing the shared experience of a group of people. Why do you think this story had to be written in this voice?
Well, yeah, I suppose I wanted the narrator’s voice to be able to represent any single one of the crewmen, while at the same time representing them all. In the story, the unit subsumes each individual’s identity and decision-making ability, ultimately leading to a dangerous diffusion of responsibility.
There’s a shift in the middle of this piece that is really striking. It’s all masculine imagery: first, the languor at sea and shitting on schedule, then the ultra-violence of war, and back to the almost-normalcy of very particular, practiced lives. It’s almost like a loss of identity, or robotics. Do you have experience with this kind of existing?
I’ve never been comfortable in environments in which hierarchy and in-group loyalty are dialed up, or ones in which those qualities must be demonstrated at the expense of out-group members. All-male organizations can often create these types of environments, at least temporarily. Although I am a man, I wrote “Yellow Submarine” never having been fully immersed in the type of hyper-masculine setting I was trying to create. I’m not sure how convincing it is, although I also wasn’t trying to make it entirely realistic. By the way, after it was written, I ran the story by a friend of mine who had actually served on a sub. He said that there were too many words and that it should be cut in half, which was funny since this is a flash fiction piece written for brevity. His best comment was, “There’s no room for adverbs or adjectives in the military”!
Does your work often critique group culture or was this a unique theme for this particular story?
No, I don’t think it is something I regularly write about.
What kind of music inspires your writing?
Aside from the title, there are a number of Beatles references scattered throughout my story, and there’s a reason for that. I was eating at a Salvadoran restaurant on a rainy day in Olympia, Washington, where I live, when a salsa version of “Yellow Submarine” started playing over the speakers. I was listening to that and staring out at the water of Budd Inlet when the idea for the story started coming to me.
But, while I do like the Beatles, they are not what I normally listen to. Recently, I’ve been listening to Son Lux, FKA Twigs, Youth Lagoon, the Middle East and John Cooper Clarke. The album Kid A continues to generate a creative headspace for me. In general, music along with some drinks while writing can be just an excellent way to spend a night.
What are you working on now?
Actually, these days I’ve been working on combining my writing with music. I just put out a single under the artist name Lost in a State, called “Pablo and the Provenance of Sadness.” It combines a poem I wrote about Picasso with the music of my friend Robin Anthony Coe (aka Signal Box). You can listen to all of my musical collaborations here: https://lostinastate.com/music/.