A brief interview with Lindsay Hunter
and a preview of our 2016 AWP Conference panel: “What the Heck Does Innovative Fiction Actually Mean?: Authors Cut Through the Jargon”
Lindsay Hunter was originally slated to be on our AWP Conference panel, “What the Heck Does Innovative Fiction Actually Mean?: Authors Cut Through the Jargon,” but she had to drop out and Manuel Gonzales will be replacing her as a panelist. Fortunately, Lindsay was still able to answer some panelist questions for us. This chat gives a preview of what you might expect at the panel on Friday, April 1st, and it also gives Lindsay a chance to chime in on the topic for our online readers.
[James R. Gapinski]: So I have to ask the central question: what does innovative fiction actually mean? It seems like some cheesy buzzword, but can we define innovative fiction?
[Lindsay Hunter]: I think innovative fiction is something that surprises its readers. You know that feeling you get when you’re reading something and you think, “Man, I could never do this.” And then you think, “Man, I’m gonna go sit down right now and try to do that, or try to write something that makes me feel like reading that made me feel.” That’s innovative. It generates a chain of inspiration and creation.
[JRG]: When you’re writing a piece like “Don’t Kiss Me,” do you begin with the intentional goal of doing something formally unconventional, or is that something that just happens organically as you write?
[LH]: It’s very organic for me. I sit down and write the first line knocking around in my head, and then I write the next one and the next one. It’s all about the voice, the word selection that nourishes that voice. I don’t think, “Okay, I gotta write something truly f*cked up, GIDDY UP HUNTER, LET’S DO IT.” I think, “Hmm I wanna write about a woman who’s obsessed with another woman at work.” I think it’s unconventional because I’m trying to reveal something in these marginalized, sometimes hyper-real characters that I love so much. I’m trying to unveil some humanity whenever I can.
[JRG]: You’re judging our short fiction contest. I’m sure those interested in submitting are itching to know: are there specific things you look for in a great piece of innovative writing?
[LH]: I always find myself looking for an interesting turn of phrase. A quickness, a deftness between word and image. Something that makes me jealous! I’m also a sucker for anything that makes me feel nostalgic – either the character’s nostalgia or something sparked inside me.
[JRG]: Could you share some authors or books that you find particularly risky or innovative?
[LH]: Gutshot by Amelia Gray is like an opus of innovation. I think it’s perfect. Catherine Lacey’s Nobody is Ever Missing is another one. And Maryse Meijer’s forthcoming Heartbreaker burns it ALL down. Full disclosure, we all have the same editor. But that editor is a master of seeking out innovative, weird stuff!
Lindsay Hunter is the author of Ugly Girls (FSG Originals, 2014), which The Huffington Post called “a story that hits a note that’s been missing from the chorus of existing feminist literature.” Her next novel, working title Eat Only When You’re Hungry, is forthcoming from FSG. She is also the author of the flash fiction story collections Don’t Kiss Me (FSG Originals, 2013) and Daddy’s (Featherproof Books, 2010).
Chelsea Werner-Jatzke interviews Christine Texeira (contributor to The Conium Review: Vol. 3). Her work has also recently appeared in Moss. She currently works at the Hugo House in Seattle, and she is managing editor of Paragraphiti.
[Chelsea Werner-Jatzke]: What is Paragraphiti?
[Christine Texeira]: Currently it’s an online journal, but we’re about to release our first print issue. It was started by a fellow grad student at University of Notre Dame and is focused on international writers and artists. I’m the managing editor.
[CWJ]: Besides the journal, what else are you working on?
[CT]: I’m editing my graduate school thesis into a novel. It’s a series of stories that feel cohesive to me. One of them was published in Moss. It’s very much a novel of the Northwest. Lot’s of Sasquatch and D.B. Cooper.
[CWJ]: Both the story in Moss and the piece published by Conium are focused on strange sibling dynamics. What’s the deal?
[CT]: I was raised as an only child and had always wanted a sibling. There’s something about that relationship that I have no insight into. It’s like, because I can’t comprehend it I am trying to figure it out in writing. Later in life I discovered that I have an older brother that I’ve never met and I don’t think he knows I exist. Before that discovery I had always written characters that had siblings but it wasn’t the focus of the story. After that discovery I decided to focus on this obsession.
[CWJ]: At AWP I asked you if all your stories were so odd and you were like, “yeah pretty much.” Conium is a journal for experimental fiction, is all of your writing experimental in form or just bizarre in content?
[CT]: A lot of it is form. I become attached to strange bits of information and write about them. Then I begin to see how they can combine. I like to be surprised and am always looking for the funny and the scary that together create the strange. I don’t mean “surprised” or “scary” as in, horror stories. I mean I like to be surprised by my own narratives. To write to the place where I’m a bit afraid because I don’t know where the narrative will go, what the rules are. Then I go back and tame the story, edit a lot of that out.
[CWJ]: Can you describe your editing process?
[CT]: I typically write in sections that are titled and specific. They can have a wide variety in length. Then I cut entire pieces and see what’s left, how they fit together. I consider myself a short story writer but the pieces that I am editing into a novel right now feel unified.
[CWJ]: You have a Furnace reading coming up in 2016 and they publish longish, self-contained stories incorporating audio. What are you presenting for that?
[CT]: That is also a section of the novel, similarly self-contained as the Moss piece. It’s about Mortal Kombat. I’m partial to Mortal Kombat 4 since it’s what I grew up playing so I am going take recordings from that for the reading.
[CWJ]: Are you working anything outside of the novel?
[CT]: I’m writing other stories, not connected, about strange jobs.
[CWJ]: Like what?
[CT]: One is about a continuity editor for a porn production company in futuristic Seattle.
[CWJ]: Do you watch a lot of porn?
[CT]: No not really. I was talking to someone who works at Amazon writing descriptions or reviews or something, and I got to thinking about the job of someone who has to watch a lot of porn, what that would be like.
[CWJ]: Well there’s certainly room for improvement in the cinematic qualities of pornography.
[CT]: Yes, this production company believes porn could be so much more.
Look for more fiction from Christine Texeira to inspire the literary world and the hopefully the porn industry too. Visit her website at https://christinetexeira.wordpress.com and follow her on Twitter @xtinetexeira for more information.
Chelsea Werner-Jatzke interviews Charles Rafferty (contributor to The Conium Review: Vol. 2, No. 2). Charles is the author of ten poetry collections, most recently The Unleashable Dog (Steel Toe Books, 2014), and he’s the author of the short story collection, Saturday Night at Magellan’s (Fomite Press, 2013).
[Chelsea Werner-Jatzke]: There’s a sentence in your poem, “The Man in Charge of Darkness”: “He remembered/ when he first wanted the job—after breaking/ his last flashlight in the belly of a cave”. The line, “his last flashlight in the belly of the cave” describes the effect of your flash fiction, to me. The reader only sees what the narrator shed light on. Can you talk about focus in your fiction?
[Charles Rafferty]: My stories tend toward the tiny. I’m drawn to the pivoting moments in my characters’ lives. I like considering the moments that immediately precede or follow a great triumph or disaster. The farther away from that moment I get, the less interested I become.
[CWJ]: Reading Saturday Night at Magellan’s and The Unleashable Dog back to back, I was struck by the number of times you use the word “contrail.” Can you talk about what it is about that word that draws you to it? How that happens with language?
[CR]: How funny! I hadn’t even realized I was using that word repeatedly. It’s a very precise word–it reminds me how fortunate we are to have a word for this particular mark across the sky. It’s not especially beautiful sounding, but it starts off crisp and becomes diffuse. It happens while we’re not paying attention, like the stars and the bees. I do get on “word jags” every now and then for reasons I don’t think are important to try to understand. Just this morning I was alarmed to find four instances of “rafters” in the story I was working on. The story is too tiny to let all of them stay.
[CWJ]: I’d love to know more about how you organized Saturday Night at Magellan’s. A story like “My Yoga Pants, My Executioner” marks a shift from the first two thirds of the collection.
[CR]: Saturday Night at Magellan’s is organized into three large blocks. The first group of stories centers around a mature character, someone often in their forties, someone like me. The second group centers on characters in their teens, someone like I used to be. The third group consists of a bunch of crazy stories that didn’t quite fit into the other two groups. They tend to be wilder or sillier and sometimes surreal.
I began writing stories in 2009, so many of the stories in Magellan’s were me consciously trying on different voices, different approaches. That last section of Magellan’s is where I put all the outliers. I knew I’d never create enough stories similar to “My Yoga Pants, My Executioner,” but I didn’t want that fact to preclude me from collecting it into the book.
When I read a book of poems or stories by someone else, I almost never start with the first piece and read the book in order. I’ll flip through to whatever catches my eye, or I’ll choose something based on how much time I have available. So I tend to have a “good enough” attitude toward organization. As long as it seems logical, I don’t expend too much energy on it.
[CWJ]: I’m hoping you can discuss the point at which you know if something is poetry or prose. This question could also be phrased as: Would you describe your writing as “an armload of bees/ apparently happy to assume the shape/ of whatever box” (“The Man Laments the Bees That Didn’t Sting”)…?
[CR]: In many cases, I don’t see any distinction at all between poetry and fiction. As an example, the story “Rio de Janeiro” was originally written for a 78-word fiction contest Esquire was running (it didn’t win), but I ended up publishing it at The Prose-Poem Project. Then, because it seemed to fit, I included it in my book of short fiction, Saturday Night at Magellan’s.
All this being said, there are certain things that push me toward fiction–the need to change scenes, the presence of dialogue, the presence of more than one character. This last point is probably most important. For a story to work, I feel I have to have characters bump up against each other. The match needs something to strike against.
Hillary Leftwich interviews The Conium Review contributor Jan LaPerle. Her work appeared in Vol. 3 and on our Online Compendium.
[Hillary Leftwich]: Your flash story “Murmuration” appears on our online website and “Laden” was just published in the print version of Volume 3 Collector’s Edition. I found both flash stories to have a similar theme about the relationships between mother and child as well as life and death, but in dramatically different ways. Was this similar theme intentional? Which story do you feel has the strongest portrayal of this theme?
[Jan LaPerle]: A few minutes ago I was reading over an Artist Statement I wrote last year. I wrote, “When I write, I write of fear. Fear like ivy climbing the trunk of the pecan tree that shades our house; it has wrapped itself around me. Every day I fear losing this little girl – every day when I send her off to school with her backpack and little pink shoes, I feel it; every night when I tuck her in bed I fear she may not wake in the morning.” The thread that runs between my characters and myself is fear: fear of losing my child, fear of losing my freedom, my life, my control (so many fears and too many to list). Instead of intentional, I’d say it’s a theme in all my work – something I just try to get at and something I look at from every angle and every distance.
There’s something simpler, cleaner about the fear in “Murmuration.” The fear of not being able to fulfill a desire, in the story, for both characters is tragic, and most tragic in the living than the dying. In “Laden,” there are so many complicated fears – fear of becoming a parent, fear of losing a loved one, the fears of the neighbors recognizing their own fears, and the fear of an adult looking at a fearless child. I believe “Murmuration” travels deeper into one fear and “Laden” is a somewhat messy look at a lot of fears coming together in an image – that strange image at the end of the family frozen in the ice. So, perhaps the strength here is in the potency, the deeper look, the murmurations. Though I’m not exactly sure.
[HL]: It has been said that poetry lends itself to flash fiction. As a poet and a fiction writer, do you find this to be true? Are you drawn more towards one or the other in your own writing?
[JLP]: I wrote poetry first. I completed my MFA in poetry and never once wrote fiction, but when I moved to Oklahoma and began a PhD, I took several classes in fiction. I felt drawn to write stories, but I was never very good or very drawn to the short story. In my last fiction class, we all ended with a 5-minute reading (we were to read a short segment of a longer piece). But, for the reading, I decided to write a complete piece to be read under 5 minutes, and that is when I, rather organically, wrote my first flash fiction piece. I fell in love with the form.
The crafting of a flash fiction piece is much like crafting a poem, but what I love about writing fiction is the characters, the magic between characters in setting, etc. Sometimes writing a poem seems a little self-indulgent, and not because poetry is necessarily, but mine is. I know I need to push my poetry, to find a way to write a new type of poem. I’ve tried all sorts of things but maybe not hard enough. I feel right writing flash fiction in a way I haven’t with poetry in a long time.
[HL]: In your flash story “Laden” there is a description that gives me goose bumps: “And then the trees pulled, a response to the pain they found there. The frozen pond stood suspended in the air, held by the surrounding branches. The slowing winds rocked the pond like a cradle.” What is one story or poem you have read where a line or paragraph has stayed with you over the years?
[JLP]: My first love as a writer was Plath, and this line from “Tulips” has never left me: “The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble/ They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps/ Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another/ So it is impossible to tell how many there are.”
Even in that poem, there are better lines, but the image here is frightening and I’ve thought of it often for many years.
[HL]: There is a saying, “If a writer falls in love with you, you will never die.” Have any of the stories or poems you have written held true to this saying? If someone did make it into one of your writings, why did you choose them, even if it was inadvertently?
[JLP]: It is often the faces of strangers that are most haunting to me – they are the ones I write about (though there are pieces of me and the ones I love floating on their surfaces). For example, when we were living in this little town, Bluff City, I was driving to work early one morning and I met a couple driving in a car – both of them were very tall, skinny, and very pale. The car windows were large and I could see them well. I imagined they had been working all night and were on their way home. They seemed very sad to me, though I knew it wasn’t fair of me to think so. Or, maybe, there was something about them that reflected my own sadness. I wrote then a story about them, “Swing Shift,” and in it they find happiness and light. If I hadn’t written their story, I wouldn’t have remembered their faces, but it’s been years since I saw them on the road, and I can see them as clearly as the tree outside my window.
[HL]: Your poem, “She Rings Like a Bell in the Night” was published in Rattle and also nominated for a Pushcart Prize. The title is also taken from the Stevie Nick’s song “Rhiannon.” If you could pick one song to describe your writing overall, what would be your theme song be?
[JLP]: “After the Storm,” Shovels & Rope.
Chelsea Werner-Jatzke interviews The Conium Review contributor Jack Granath. His work has appeared in Vol. 1, No. 1, Vol. 1, No. 2, and on our Online Compendium.
[Chelsea Werner-Jatzke]: The title of “For Bandit and Teddy and the Rest” does a lot of work. Do you feel that a title carries more heft in flash fiction than in longer fiction?
[Jack Granath]: As a reader, I’m sometimes mystified by a poem until I glance back at the title and realize it makes perfect sense. (That can be a good thing or a bad thing.) Maybe this is a common role of the title for short pieces in general, including flash fiction. They can situate, contextualize, point. Other titles will complicate, give texture—point again, but in a direction you wouldn’t expect. I’m not sure what Bandit and Teddy do here.
What I would like to avoid is the title that does nothing the poem or story isn’t already doing, like a voice-over describing the action or the emotions that you’re sitting there watching at the movies. When I notice I’ve used one of those, it’s usually for a piece that shouldn’t have had any title at all.
[CWJ]: In crafting “Year of the Monsters” for Gabriel Garcia Marquez, dying, was there a particular work you were referencing while writing this?
[JG]: That story is easily one of the strangest writing experiences of my life. I was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude, got a García Márquez sound going in my head, put down the book, and picked up a pen. I wrote a story about the death of an old man and dedicated it, “For Gabriel García Márquez, dying.” That was at the end of February and he died in April. So I think the focus there was mainly on his ghost. Or at least on the premature shenanigans of his ghost.
[CWJ]: I’m interested in your progress from poetry to fiction. At what point in the writing process do you decide something is distinctly prose and follow that, rather than writing a poem? For instance, what makes “After the Japanese,” originally published in Rattle, a poem and not a story? Time passes, action takes place, character develops, a moral emerges.
[JG]: That’s a big, interesting question. I’m not sure I would use the word “progress” to describe anything I do. “Small, circular wayfaring” gets closer to it.
In his essay, “The Prose Poem in America,” Russell Edson says, “Time flows through prose and around poetry. Poetry is the sense of the permanent, of time held. Prose is the sense of normal time, time flowing.” It’s a great essay, going on to talk about how the length of a work plays a role in this too.
That last consideration makes me think of Suzanne Bernard’s great book about prose poems. For her, brevity (and a special power derived from it) is one of the three defining qualities of the poem in prose (the others are unity and freedom). She quotes Edgar Allan Poe, “I hold that a long poem does not exist. I maintain that the phrase, ‘a long poem,’ is simply a flat contradiction in terms.”
But as a guy who loves lots of long poems, I have to say it’s more a question of concentration than brevity. I don’t think action, character development, and a moral (does that poem really have a moral? What have I done!) matter much in terms of the way we classify fiction and poetry.
Just as some poems need to be sonnets and some need to be free verse, others need to be prose. The point at which that decision is made can happen disastrously late or disastrously early, but usually it’s another thing that, like the title, turns up on its own.
[CWJ]: I was impressed with the way that “Very Important to Them,” published on Opium in 2008, seemed to grow through the comments left on the website. The evaluation forms you used for writing the piece spill over into your piece because it was published electronically. Do you have pieces that you feel belong in print vs. pieces that belong on the Internet?
[JG]: The Internet as a publishing platform is a contradiction. A piece on the Internet is so easily accessible that lots of people will see it, but many of us still labor to squeeze our stuff into print publications that hardly anyone will read. We do that because what we publish on the Internet disappears so soon, so effortlessly, and so completely.
So time again: poetry with time flowing around it. There’s nothing sadder than a monument squatting there in its ignorance of geological time, but a poem isn’t that exactly. It’s more like a handful of mud shaped into something and left out in the garden. In some cases that garden is called the Uffizi. In others it’s just a patch of shrubs in a Kansas suburb. Either way, Renaissance statue or garden gnome, the thing is waving goodbye to the tourist or the mailman through every minute of its existence.
I agree that the small act of accretion that went on among those dangling reader comments adds a layer to that piece, extends it with a bit of unintentional irony, I think. Print, electronic, wherever it winds up, pretty much anything can happen to a poem.
Kim Brown is an editor at Minerva Rising Literary Journal. Her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, Today’s Chicago Woman, Contemporary Fashion, National View, Naperville Sun, and Pitkin Review.
[James R. Gapinski]: Many writers and editors have seen the VIDA.org statistics that show low lit journal acceptance rates for women, but few actually do anything about it. What motivated you to take action, creating a women’s-only journal?
[Kim Brown]: I read somewhere that stories written by women were “small” compared to the ones written by men. That troubled me. It seemed to devalue the work of women writers and the overall experience of being a woman. But after receiving a series of rejection letters for own work, I worried that there might be some truth to that statement. I lamented to anyone who would listen that there needed to be a literary journal for women that was interested in publishing the type of stories that women write. And then I remembered a quote by Toni Morrison, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I knew I had to create the type of journal I wanted to submit to.
[JRG]: In March 2014, you’ll give the first “Owl of Minerva” award. Can you talk a little bit about the award and the criteria you’ll be looking for in nominees?
[KB]: It has always been Minerva Rising‘s policy to give a portion of our proceeds back to women in need. In the past we have done this by donating to Women for Women International. However, we felt that we wanted to make more of an impact and the Owl Award was born. We wanted to offer one woman writer, who would otherwise not have the financial means to invest in herself as a writer, an opportunity to pursue her creative endeavors. Applicants will be required to write an essay in response to a question posted on our website. We will be looking for both need and desire.
[JRG]: You say you created the sort of journal you’d want to submit to. Can you expand on that? What are some of the aesthetic or creative approaches that best fit your style?
[KB]: I tend to write anecdotal tales of ordinary women working through the challenges of daily life. A lot of the journals I submitted to were looking for shock and awe. And while I appreciate that type of writing, I wanted a place that felt like a community of women supporting one another through the sharing of experiences and stories.
Consequently, when people ask about the aesthetic or creative approaches that best fit my style, I shudder a little. The beauty and meaning I find in writing comes from the writer’s courage and the determination to share her truth. The style or the approach isn’t as important to me. I want to get lost in the story.
[JRG]: You referenced Toni Morrison earlier. What other authors have had a major impact on your work as a writer and editor?
[KB]: There have been ten women writers in particular who have guided me throughout my journey as a writer: Natalie Goldberg, Anne Lamott, Anna Quindlen, Kate Chopin, Bebe Moore Campbell, Dorothy West, Judy Blume, Virginia Woolf, Joyce Carol Oates, and Sylvia Path
I’ve learned so much by the way each author writes about the complexity of life as a woman and/or writer. I owe every woman on the list a ton of gratitude.
[JRG]: As a fellow graduate of Goddard’s MFA program, I bet you heard the phrase “trust the process” a lot. I know this can be a big question, but what’s your process as a writer?
[KB]: Free writing plays a huge part in my process. I like to write long hand for a designated period of time or a set number of pages before I start to work on a specific piece. I use that time to clear my head and set the intention for my day. Sometimes I use my free writing to work out questions or problems that I have with my current project. There is something about actually writing on paper that primes the pump for me. Then I move to my computer to write. I prefer to work in two hour blocks. But I’m a procrastinator, so I often have to work longer to get things done when I’m under a deadline.
[JRG]: What about as an editor? Can you give a little insight into the editorial process at Minerva Rising?
[KB]: As an editor, I really prefer to read paper. When we first started Minerva Rising, I would print out every submission and read it. I’d make little notes in the margins, much like an annotation. I taught various writing classes at a small liberal arts college several years ago. Consequently, I read submissions like I was grading papers. However, as we started to grow, this became an inefficient use of resources and time. Now I read submissions on a Kindle and take notes in a notebook. I write down my impressions of the piece and whether or not it works for the current issue. I like to be specific so that we can offer feedback to the writer. The other editors may have a different process, but we all share our thoughts and notes on the piece after we have voted. This is really helpful because it gives us something to discuss as we make our final decisions.