Your story “A Question of Balance” is about an older couple, and we get to witness a very believable and nuanced mature love. However, you’re a young woman. Where did your material come from?
I’m not so very young, Bonnie! I’ve been married practically forever, so it wasn’t difficult to imagine this couple. The story was written for one of the weekly challenges in Zoetrope‘s Flash Factory. There had to be a hat in the story, and the hat had to be significant. I was looking through my folder of jottings—images, anecdotes, overheard conversations—and came across the idea of a man who says whatever he likes to his wife because she’s deaf. I’d also recently been browsing my mum’s sketches from when she lived in Nigeria, and so the idea of carrying things on your head was there, too. I liked the idea of this couple, so I started writing but with no real plan. Halfway through I realized it would be just right if the woman came down the stairs with a tea tray on her head.
The old man banters a bit with his wife and in his thoughts about how old she’s gotten and that she doesn’t look like she once did. This lends to the believability that they’ve been together a while—they’re past the flowers-and-chocolates stage. She seems to laugh it off easily, though bantering can go terribly wrong between couples and someone can get hurt. Why do you think it works for them?
Well, only because she can’t really hear him. But if she guesses at the sort of thing he’s saying, she may, after so many years of marriage, feel there’s no point in minding too much or getting upset. And if you’re not really a morning person, what better way to keep people out for a while than to not put your hearing aid in?
Why do you think he says and thinks such caustic things about her, especially when he seems to really love her?
I think he’s not feeling that great about himself and is taking it out on her. And by thinking over how much he’s already done that day, he’s trying to convince himself that he’s still effective, still valued by old colleagues. His relationship with his wife has become a habit, and in witnessing her tea tray balancing act he’s reminded of who they both were and still are, and his love for her is reawakened.
What do you like about writing flash fiction? Do you write fiction of other lengths, too?
I like it that a piece of flash fiction can be written in one sitting, not dragging on for weeks or months or years. And if it needs editing, that too is quicker because there are fewer words to consider changing. Also, since my flashes are not planned out in advance and I’m not trying to say anything big, I’m not as emotionally invested in them, and can just have fun and write more freely.
I write short stories of up to five thousand words or so, but to attempt a novel feels like too much. I’m not sure I’d have the persistence to see it through.
What are you working on now?
I’m making a few changes to an old story that hasn’t found a home yet. When that’s sent out I’m going to start something new and exciting and completely different—I’m just not sure what yet!