Our guest editor, Claudia Smith, calls this a “signature Barringer” story. What does she mean?
That I tend to bug people with my writing. And that it’s twisted humor.
So, David, what is in the duffel bag?
The story, I hate to say it, is true. My aunt actually did this, snuck a realistic-looking plastic cockroach into her duffel bag in her hotel room, hoping to scare the heck out of any maid who tried to steal her stuff. And a maid did indeed see the cockroach and thrash the duffel bag to within an inch of its Gore-Texed life. And then, on the last day, my aunt bent down to pick up her plastic cockroach and zip, off it went, scaring the heck out of my aunt. A joke on the jokester. It’s wonderful turnabout. My work was to reduce the story to its elemental parts, making it as short as possible, like Chekhov or Russell Edson or Lydia Davis.
At only 74 words, this could be considered micro-fiction. How do you feel about the various terms used for fiction of short lengths—micro, flash, short-short, etc.?
Ambivalent. No one polices these categories, they’re just labels on the diorama. It’s the language that’s important.
You’re involved in numerous artist endeavors. Tell us about your favorites.
My favorite book so far is my recent novel, American Home Life, and not because it’s recent but because I put so much of my real fatherly life into it. It’s a personally meaningful book, and I get satisfaction from it no matter how well it ever does. Outside of the books, I still like the Dead Bug Funeral Kit, which continues to excite people. I am expanding that into a Dead Pet Funeral Kit, perhaps a long book of eulogies for dead pets, told from the points of view of children. Many people have asked for this and seem to need a source for ritual for their kids, some way to deal with the death of pets in a verbal and active way.
While reading through the annual Kathy Fish Fellowship applications, I was struck by the number of writers who were using flash as, to paraphrase, a means to an end. Most people weren’t writing flash because they loved the form, because it took them places other types of fiction didn’t. Instead, they were using it as a gateway into longer works—short stories, short story collections, novels. As a champion of flash, I found this discouraging. Is flash fiction less satisfying, in terms of either writing or reading, than longer works? Or is it that the markets still haven’t accepted flash as a legitimate form? Why do you write flash, and where do you see it taking you?
I suppose I come to Flash through the Modernists, Pound and Eliot and H.D. and then even Kafka, all those layers and references and fragments and making each word count. That influenced me a good deal early on, I suppose also because I was scared of longer works, scared that I didn’t have that much to say, mistrusting the ramblers who blab on for page after page. Flash as a form can be a way to perceive experience, meaning that the more you read it, the more you start to translate your experience far more selectively into the Flash form. When I read novels, I want to write novels. When I read Flash, I want to write Flash. I’m vulnerable that way. So I think questions of the market or legitimacy or what other writers are doing should have just about nothing to do with what any writer has to do to continue to inspire themselves to keep writing. I write short pieces, episodic pieces, vignettes, all because I can find freedom in the limitation and a wider resonance in the narrowed focus. I avoid the blab.