I love the duality of this piece, how something as wonderful as falling in love, and as sinister as an unwanted thing growing inside, can produce the same sensation. Perhaps life and death is not such a dichotomy after all…except at some point, for this character at least, the difference becomes apparent. When it comes down to it, do you think people are always able to differentiate between the life-giving and the life-taking? Are they ever one and the same?
I think we assume we can differentiate, but I’m not sure we’re actually wired to do so. How many of the decisions we make—concerning “love,” for example, or “freedom” or for that matter “life” itself—end up being life-taking rather than life-giving?
“He spreads his palm over the spot, taking possession.” What, do you think, would have happened if he shucked this feeling?
I suppose he’d have missed out on experiencing something he hadn’t experienced for a very long time. In the Thom Jones story “Cold Snap,” the protagonist at one point says, “Well, it’s cold for a change, and that’s not so bad. because any change is something. I think there are times when we seize whatever presents itself, only because it’s suddenly there, and because it’s something. Grabbing it (taking possession of it) is a natural response. So, maybe there’s a bit of selfishness to it, but the selfishness can also be life-giving, if only for a moment.
The focus of this piece sticks tightly to the man and this feeling he’s experiencing. We know little else about him, except he lives near an interstate, and he has a wife who cooks chicken on Wednesday. How difficult is to eliminate the detritus that can creep into flash fiction and just stick to the story’s essence? How do you, personally, decide what is enough?
Accepting the fact that there’s ALWAYS something to cut makes it a lot easier. But only in the course of multiple readings in a short time frame (like a dozen or more in a day or so?) can I acquire the necessary objectivity and ruthlessness. I trace it to working at the rewrite desk of a major trade magazine, where I apprenticed under an editor/alchemist who could compress reporters’ 1,200-word bags of sand into 200-word diamonds on a one-hour deadline. It was amazing to watch—and very educational.
Are you primarily a flash fiction writer? What do you find appealing about the short short form?
I actually write very little flash fiction; my work usually falls in the 5000- to 6000-word range. But there’s the odd moment for me when 600 or 800 words just feels a lot better—who doesn’t like to accomplish a lot with a little? It’s taking the form of the short story to its logical end. I admire the writers who can do this on a consistent basis, because I can’t.
Since this is my first issue with SLQ, I thought it’d be appropriate to discuss firsts. Writing firsts. First time you called yourself a writer, first publication, first check. Those sorts of things. So, dish. What is your most memorable writing first?
Well, this is my first time interviewed, so I’ll use the occasion to recall my first public reading: The first time I ever read in public I immediately followed the poet Allen Ginsberg, who had just brought down the house in what I understood to be typical fashion. My reserved, subtle, and introspective coming-of-age story—delivered in dry-mouthed monotone—was predictably, and maybe understandably, ignored.