My apologies, but I like getting straight to the money—are you married or in a long-term relationship? What are the essential insights about communication in committed relationships you want to convey in “A Short History of Those Who Came Before Us?”
I’ve been in a long-term relationship since 2013, and I think I started thinking up these things about a year or two into that relationship. The insights I had in mind when I put this all together actually have less to do with communication exactly and more to do with action, the choices we make to continue loving others when the inevitable difficulties of a relationship meet us. Communication is definitely one of those actions/choices. I guess the essential insight of the story, in my mind, would be trying to recapture that notion of choice and duty in terms of what it means to love others, a la Fromm’s The Art of Loving or Kierkegaard’s Works of Love. How well-developed that idea is in the story is uncertain to me, however.
Breaking the narrative into vignettes is structurally interesting. The white space stretching between each couple’s lifetime mimics epochs of time and creates distance that allows for reflection. Before settling on this structure, was the story more conventional? Also, did you aim to tell the story chronologically from the outset, or did you explore different patterns?
I’m not too innovative or creative a thinker: The only structures I entertained were sort of assembling all of the events into the vignette-style piece you have before you or expanding each event into a story unto itself. A part of me still thinks the latter option would have been better. As far as chronology, each abnormal event occurred to me on its own terms, meaning I never really saw the vignettes as part of some larger chronology until I put them into one. But maybe more to the point of your question, once I decided to make the events all a part of the same piece, having them be ordered chronologically seemed inevitable and that wasn’t something I ever questioned. I just unthinkingly followed my instincts, which is what I normally do.
“A Short History of Those Who Came Before Us” features magical marital communication ailments, including wholesale fusion, anti-magnetism, and disembodied voices—what ailments were left on the cutting-room floor? Why are the featured ailments important?
Most of the ailments I thought up made it into the piece. One that didn’t was a couple becoming suddenly invisible to each other and each person sort of accidentally haunting the other by continuing to live in the same house and follow the same routines they did when they could both see each other. If memory serves (again, I’ve been messing around with all of these for about four years), I cut that one because I felt it was covering roughly the same metaphorical ground as the antimagnetism vignette (being able to see each other and be close to each other). I wish I could say why the featured ailments are important, but that presupposes I have a bunch of other ailments I never used, which I don’t. These were simply the best ones I could think up. It was important to me that each one be distinct from the others, but why my subconscious gave me these ones and not others is probably best left up to a psychoanalyst to explain.
Here, you blend together speculative and postmodern traditions to tell a story about falling out of sync and (hopefully) back into sync with a loved one. Do you usually work with these literary traditions and genre elements, or does the purpose and theme of a given story dictate the mode you work in?
I would say I’ve been emulating postmodern writers ever since I decided I wanted to be semi-serious about writing and began earnestly reading and thinking about the practice, and I think my influences can be all too obvious sometimes. I’m not sure whether or not that’s the case here, but a couple of years ago, I don’t think I was even able to imagine not trying to write like Pynchon or DeLillo or Wallace, which is embarrassing, but also the truth. Whatever inclination toward speculative fiction is present in my work probably issues out of my interest in postmodernism (and post-postmodernism, or whatever it is we’re calling what came after postmodernism now). Wallace writes about a character being able to levitate while he concentrates really hard in The Pale King; DeLillo’s most recent novel is about trying to achieve immortality through cryo-freezing; Barthelme wrote about a giant balloon dwarfing a metropolitan city—this is the only way I really remain in contact with speculative fiction; otherwise, I don’t pay attention to the genre.
Please tell us about some of your recent works and what stories you’re currently pursuing.
I had a piece published in The Matador Review called “The Right Object” earlier this year, and that is essentially one of these vignettes blown up into a short story. I’ve kind of moved away from love-in-the-face-of-the-supernatural, though, and am currently working on a collection of stories centered around the appreciation of film and how we interact with art in our daily lives and our relationships. I’ve also been haphazardly thinking about and occasionally writing a novel that is set entirely in a theme park not unlike Disneyland and would be one part Harry Potter and two parts, I don’t know, something like Underworld.